The book is about a little girl called Matilda. She lives in a kind of strange family where TV is life and books are just for collegefreaks. Her father, Mr. Wormwood, is a car salesman. His way of fixing things is not very legal, but he still earns a lot of money selling bad cars with their gearbox drowned in sawdust so they won’t make much sound, for the first couple of miles. The police are trying to get him for buying and selling stolen car parts, but they don’t succeed. Her mother, Mrs. Wormwood, who says she chose looks instead of books thinks she has a most wonderful life with a rich husband and a nice house. She doesn’t have a job and spends the day at the “Bingo”. Matilda’s brother, who goes to school, is the bad child in the family and he takes after his father’s way of handling things. He loves to tease Matilda, and is Mr. Wormwoods favourite.
Matilda is a very extraordinary child, but her parents haven’t got time for her and do never find out what amazing abilities and powers she has. At the age of three she had learned to read, and at the age of four she could read fast an natural like any other human being. She begins to visit the library when her mother goes to the “Bingo”, and there Mrs. Phelps studies Matilda day after day. After reading all the children’s books Matilda wants something more difficult to read and then Mrs. Phelps recommends Charles Dickens. Matilda is told that she can have her own library card and borrow so many books she wants, and take them with her home. Then she won’t have to go all the way to the library every day.
One day Mr. Wormwood comes home with a big smile telling how much he earned that day, and how he fixed the cars. He asks Matilda’s brother to find out how much money he made and tells him how much he paid for the cars, and how much he sold them for. Matilda who is brilliant in mental arithmetic says the answer long before her brother even has managed to write the numbers down. Mr. Wormwood calls Matilda a cheater, and Matilda gets very angry. She thinks her father is a jerk doing such illegal things with the cars, so she puts “Super Glue” on her fathers’ hat. After using the hat he can’t get it off and Mrs. Wormwood has to cut it off.
Later Matilda starts going to the school. The school has an at most terrifying headmistress called Miss Trunchbull, but Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, is a lovely person who at once sees Matilda’s abilities. She is amazed of her abilities in mental arithmetic and gives her a book for a much more advanced grade. At the school Matilda meets Lavender who fast becomes her friend in better and worse. Miss Honey, Matilda’s teacher, tries to persuade Matilda’s parents to give Matilda extra private teaching, and tells them that with the proper teaching Matilda could start at the college in a few years, but college isn’t something that belongs in a Wormwood family. Miss Honey doesn’t manage to persuade them and have to try to give Matilda the extra teaching at school.
Matilda also meets Hortensia at the school, she tells Matilda and Lavender about the “Chookie”, the place where bad behaving children are put away for the rest of the day. Miss Trunchbull makes the day at school a living nightmare where every thing you says and does can be used against you in Miss Trunchbull’s private court, a court where everybody are convicted guilty.
One day Miss Honey takes Matilda with her home, she tells about her past when she lived in a big house with her father and had a good life. But then her mother dies and her father makes Miss Honey’s aunt her babysitter while he is at work. One day Miss Honey’s father is found dead in his office. Suicide the police say, but Miss Honey still thinks it was her aunt who did it to get the house and the family fortune. Miss Honey moves out and rents a little house for herself. At last Matilda figures out that Miss Honey’s aunt is Miss Trunchbull, she feels very sorry for Miss Honey and decides to help her getting the house and family fortune back. Matilda’s hidden powers are just perfect for this. She has the peculiar ability of lifting and moving things with her eyes. In the beginning she can’t control them, but after some practising she manages to control them. One day when Miss Truncbull is to teach Miss Honey’s class Matilda decides to go through with her plan. She uses her eyes to make the light flash and to make the curtains open and close rapidly. Miss Trunchbull who is very superstitious becomes terrified, and when Matilda starts to write on the blackboard that she has to leave the town and give Miss Honey back what belongs to her, Miss Trunchbull faints. After that she suddenly vanishes and nobody ever hear from her more.
The police are tracking down the Wormwoods and the family has to leave the nice town, but Matilda wants to stay. She makes Miss Honey to adopt her, and Matilda’s parents don’t spend much time considering what to do. They leave Matilda in the town and fleas away to some foreign country trying to get rid of the police. Miss Honey becomes headmistress at the school and puts Matilda in the top form grade where she can use her talents. She works so hard in the top form grade that she looses her powers, but now she doesn’t need them anyway.
And then they lived happily ever after.