I have long known David Walliams to be the writing and acting partner of Matt Lucas in shows like Little Britain and Come Fly With Me where the duo performed a huge range of characters, young and old, male and female, always spot on, always hilarious and always smart. Considering the skill with which he wrote and acted, it did not surprise me when I discovered he had started writing children's books. If he could bring these unforgettable characters to life on the screen, why not the page? It didn't surprise me either, to hear that he had been partnered with Tony Ross. Walliams, it seems, is sort of picking up where Roald Dahl left off and Ross's illustration style is very much like that of Quentin Blake, illustrator to Dahl's work for the last generation or so. I really want to read Walliam's debut book, The Boy in the Dress, (published in 2008 in the UK) but, despite having an American publisher, these books are really expensive! Over $15.00 for a paperback! So, the first book by David Walliams that I read is his newest, which I think is also what HarperCollins is hoping will be a smash hit for him here in the States, Demon Dentist.
I can't say if Demon Dentist is Walliams's best work, but it was an enjoyable read that, I think, has given me a good sense of his style and humor on the page. At 448 pages, it seemed unnecessarily long to me, but it is very generously, and humorously, illustrated by Ross (including a six pages introducing the cast of characters) and there are all sorts of funny font-size-changes and the occasional footnotes alerting readers to made-up words, like, "Cateethdral," and, "unnonreassuring." And, as far as the story and characters go, they are drawn in broad strokes, definitely have their Dahl-ian traits (well meaning but clueless or absolutely abhorrent adults, clever kids who are nobly coping with difficult life situations) and the plot, while not especially complex, moves along at a nice clip.
Demon Dentist begins with out hero Alfie Griffith, a twelve-year-old boy who has a distinct abhorrence of dentists, although this is somewhat understandable. On Alfie's last visit to the dentist some years ago, the elderly dentist, Mr. Erstwhile, had to call in his assistant and receptionist to pull Alfie's tooth and, when it was finally done, it turned out to be the wrong tooth! Alfie's dad worked for twenty years in the local coal mine and now he is wheelchair bound and they are living in near destitution, but his dad is a fantastic story teller. As the story begins, two seemingly horrible things happen to Alfie on the same day. First, a new dentist, Miss Root, comes to town and gives a speech to the children about oral health that involves her secretly peeking in all their mouths, insisting that they call her "mummy" and ending with a platter full of sugar-free sweets being tossed into the crowd. Secondly, Winnie, a colorfully dressed, biscuit loving, West Indian social worker with a serious aversion to coffee (makes her fart quite powerfully) who says "teet" instead of "teeth" and "Griffit" instead of "Griffith," appears in Alfie's home. Supposedly for his own good, things get worse when she sees his teeth and makes him an appointment with Miss Root.
Along with Gabz, the only girl in his class shorter than Alfie, the two track the trail of disgusting things left under the pillows of children who have lost teeth in their town (dead adders, cat poo, you get the idea) and try to figure out exactly who Miss Root is and why she likes rotten teeth so much. In the process, Alfie gets all his teeth pulled but, with the help of Raj, the crotchety, kind of creepy looking newsagent who seems to be Alfie's sole adult ally, he gets some new teeth and they make a plan to trap Miss Root. But, it's not until Miss Root flees with Gabz to an underground lair (decorated with teeth) in the shut down coal mine, that things come to a kind of shocking, calamitous, explosive, freaky, melodramatically, tear-jerkingly touching ending. And then the epilogue allows for a happy, silly, slightly embarrassing second ending.
I can see Demon Dentist being a rollickingly fun read out loud, at bedtime, maybe. And I hope that readers take to it! I really want to read The Boy in the Dress, but I only want to pay $6.99 for it . . .
Source: Review Copy
Is it just me, or did Tony Ross draw Alfie's dad to look a bit like Andy Pipkin, a Matt Lucas character from Little Britain??