Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

"24 for 3" by Jennie Walker (Bloomsbury, 2008)

It's actually by Charles Boyle, and it was entitled "The Rules of Play" in the States. "Very original. I loved it" writes Mick Jagger on the front cover.

I liked it too. In about 140 small pages televised cricket in 3 rooms forms the backdrop/sightscreen for the exposure of an affair. The first-person woman is trying to work her life out (she's having an affair with a loss-adjuster) while trying to understand the rules of the game. Tone has to be well managed and it is. Here are some extracts

  • Now Alan is putting a dish in the oven. 'Forty-five minutes,' he says, looking at his watch. He takes off his apron, hangs it on the back of the door, and heads for the living room. 'Seven-fifteen, the highlights. You two stay and natter. It'll be ready at eight.'
    'Highlights?' says Agnieszka, puzzled, wondering why Alan wants to watch a programme about hairdressing.
    'The cricket,' says Alan, turning on the TV. 'First day. India all out for only 198 and we're already 64 for 1. That's a lot of wickets for the first day. England are doing pretty well.' He's almost rubbing his hands. I can smell the garlic.
    I'm going to use this extract at a PoV workshop. It's not really first-person omniscient, but the voice is confident about what's happening inside some other peoples' heads. Comedy's not at the expense of character relevation.
  • This little, little place, no room to swing a bat, the size of a generous grave: the lift in which I go up to my lover and down from my lover ... I press the button for 4 or for G, and there's a little ping as the lift arrives - a tiny coming, a mini-orgasm, yes, but what it reminds me of more strongly is the bell that sounds at the foreground stall where you test your muscles by striking with a hammer (Then get to choose your prize: a bow and arrow, or an inflatable parrot. The bow and arrow.) In the order of things my passage in this lift barely registers - it's like the lumbering plod or nonchalant stroll of a batsman from the pavilion to the field of play, and later back again, not a part of the game itself - but nowhere else do I feel more observed, even if only by myself. (p.58)
    As you see, cricket becomes the prime source of analogies. As you can also see, the main character indulges in asides and introspection.
  • I know now why I married Alan. Because Selwyn was under-age. It wasn't Alan I fell in love with but Selwyn. There is nothing selfish or sly or malicious or capricious about Alan - he is, as they say, especially when they're choosing a new captain for the team, a safe pair of hands - but it was Selwyn who bowled me over. After years of working my guts out at this thing called human relationships, he taught me how to play.
    We used to play in the park, hide-and-seek.
    Under-age? I wondered whether the story was suddenly going to take a "Tampa" turn. But no. Though the depth of knowledge of cricket displayed here is surprising.
  • Somewhere near Ur, on the plains of Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago, a bored young goat-herd starts chucking a stone at some object on the ground a few yards away - another stone, or a pile of them, or the Mesopotamian equivalent of an old Coke can. Some mangled piece of hardware left behind by an invading army. Boys do this - watch them on a pebbly beach. (p.71)
    This appears out of the blue. On p.133 there's another impressive aside - scenes from around the world.
  • 'It's part of life,' I say weakly, and immediately I understand the loss-adjuster's reluctance to explain things - it isn't just laziness - and how explanations so often get in the way and yet also may be downright necessary: how else is anyone supposed to work out, or even take an interest in, with no help from outside except maybe a guidebook that written as if it's been translated into Japanese and then back again, what's going on in the middle of a green field (p.92)
    Ah, it's getting heavy now.
  • Stupid, stupid game. To decide who bats first, the umpires toss a coin. You can play the most brilliant game of your life and still end up on the losing side. You can be totally out of form and score zero and zero again and still prance with your team-mates in triumph at the end. And that's another thing: the spraying of champagne by the winners, the conspicuous waste. Fools. Champagne is for drinking, whether you win or lose. Just pass me the bottle (p.104)
    One has to admire the richness of cricket, and the entertainment of the writing.
  • Without umpires, where would bowlers hang their hats and jumpers? They'd simply drop them to the ground, like Selwyn does around the house: school tie on the draining board, jeans on the stairs, boxers and socks in the shower room. I bend and gather, bend and gather, like the reaper in a painting by Millet (p.130)
    I know the painting that's being alluded to. I'm a bit surprised that the narrator does, but it's a good phrase.

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill uses cricket too.

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