Demon Dentist is the latest book by David Walliams, previously best known as a comedic actor and one half of Little Britain alongside Matt Lucas.
Walliams’ first novel for children, The Boy in the Dress, with accompanying illustrations by Quentin Blake, drew favourable comparisons with the work of Roald Dahl to whom he has often since been compared in his later books.
I was not convinced at first that I really liked Walliams’ work. My first encounter with him was through Mr. Stink, a favourite of both my younger children, but not mine. Subsequently I read The Boy in the Dress and loved it, and have enjoyed everything else I have read of his since. I feel that he has really improved from book to book, and is much more deft and assured as a writer. I feel that at first his worked seemed more of a pastiche of Dahl, but that he has now found his own voice and each book is better for it.
Demon Dentist was on my son’s Christmas list, and he was delighted to find it in his stocking. He has enjoyed having it read to him over the Christmas holidays, and has been reading it to himself on and off. More off than on, as the rest of us keep borrowing it to read ourselves.
Demon Dentist is somewhat of a departure for Walliams in that it is more magical and macabre than his other work, although it still has that deep emotional pull that makes his work so pleasingly real, despite all the bizarre things that happen from chapter to chapter.
In this book, Alfie is a young boy who lives with his father in terrible circumstances. His father is confined to a wheel chair after twenty years of working as a coal miner. His health has deteriorated so badly that Alfie has to care for his dad as well as keep up with his school work and look after the house. With no money coming in, Alfie and his dad live particularly sad and desperate lives, and Alfie is bullied at school both for the raggedness of his appearance and for the shocking state of his teeth. Alfie is phobic of dentists, and years of poor diets and refusing to go to the dentist have left him in a real mess.
One day, at school, the head invites the new town dentist to come and give a lecture to the school on dental hygiene.
There is something profoundly odd and unsettling about this dentist, and Alfie and his friend Gabz are about to find out what that is.
I was delighted that the bonkers newsagent, Raj, who crops up in other books by Walliams, has a significant part to play in this book. I love Raj, and I love the fact that no matter how odd each story that Walliams’ pens, Raj kind of holds them all together in a strange community of Walliams’ imagining.
This is a strong book by Walliams. In terms of serious themes it is pretty good on bereavement and the issue of carers/caring in family units. The fantasy sequences are pretty impressive, and will elicit many squirms and groans from children. I also liked the made up words bits, which litter the book and could be used for some enjoyable word games with whoever you are reading to or with.
It is not my favourite of his books. I love Gangsta Granny best, and possibly The Boy in the Dress next, but it is still an excellent read. There are plenty of laughs, plenty of quirky moments and moments of deep sadness and empathy that make the books ones that will carry on being read for years, and turn them from the noodlings of a celebrity author with a gift for a good gag, to the writings of a serious children’s novelist.
I recommend this for boys and girls aged seven to fourteen. The only people who I think won’t be particularly keen are those who have a phobia of dentists. It gets pretty graphic when it comes to dental work and you will need a strong stomach for some of it.