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Quentin Blake by Ghislaine Kenyon

Quentin Blake by Ghislaine Kenyon
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When Quentin Blake does a book signing, people often tell him: “You illustrated my childhood”, said Sarah Crompton in The Observer. For most readers under 70, Blake’s drawings were part of growing up. His illustrations are everywhere: in his own children’s books, in Russell Hoban’s, Joan Aitken’s and, of course, Roald Dahl’s. He gave the Enormous Crocodile his “evil grimace”, and brought the Big Friendly Giant to life. It’s possible that Ghislaine Kenyon intended this “lavish” new book to be a biography. If so, she was foiled by Blake’s reticence, and the “smooth uneventfulness” of his life: the “lack of death, trauma, life partners or his own children”. Nevertheless, it is a “fine”, richly illustrated study of man and work.

“The facts are few, but telling,” said Frances Wilson in The Guardian. Blake was born in Sidcup in 1932, “in a house without books”. He went from grammar school to Cambridge, where he read English under the severe critic F.R. Leavis. He had his first drawing published at the age of 16, in Punch, where the art editor pointed out that his rough sketches were better than the finished ones. This led him to develop “the sense of inky spontaneity”, the “spluttery, serendipitous visual signature” that has delighted readers for half a century. Blake describes himself as “a very detached sort of person. All the ‘whoopee!’ goes into the drawings.” His characters are always on the move. “They run, leap, trot, dance, ride, skip, spin, swing, scoot, slide, sail, swim and, of course, fly.” Birds, and bird-like people, are everywhere in his work. Kenyon is “full of praise for her subject”, said Daniel Hahn in The Spectator. But the greatest compliment she pays him is taking his work for children seriously. This is an “insightful” and “well-deserved” celebration of a “unique” artist.