BOOK REVIEW: Wild fantasist, cool observer

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He returned to England, determined to write and seek acceptance there for his work, while living in a country cottage with his mother and a menagerie of animals.

In 1953, after an on-again, off-again courtship, Dahl married the successful American actress Patricia Neal in Britain. The match that produced five children, the eldest of whom died at age 7, continued more or less for 30 years, during the last 10 of which Dahl carried on an affair with Felicity Crosland, a charming divorcee who became his second wife. Mr. Sturrock manages to be sympathetic and fair to all parties while detailing the feelings of each of the spouses and children of both marriages, which were especially complicated after the severe stroke the actress suffered at age 39.

Dahl eventually found his true vocation, writing books for children, and Mr. Sturrock does a masterly job of tracing the origins and fates of each of the proposed books at the hands of editors, agents and publishers.

All the relationships followed much the same course: Enthusiastic editors would extravagantly praise the author’s work, supply his insatiable requests for Dixon-Ticonderoga 2.5 pencils, and then suggest just a few changes to make the work more broadly acceptable to their audiences. The changes might include deleting some of the scatological language or completely recasting the material and creating new endings. Dahl would initially embrace each new associate and eventually fight with them all.

Mr. Sturrock has provided a fascinating examination of an important author’s life and work.

Priscilla S. Taylor is a writer in McLean, Va.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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