Wednesday 15 October 2008

Book Review: Lloyd Jones – The Book of Fame

I had a good visit to the library this week, the first four books I picked up were ones I liked. This blurb of this book indicated it was about the New Zealand Rugby Teams tour of Britain in 1905. Not being a mad sports fan, I usually avoid this type of book, but mention of the All-Blacks got me interested (I know, I know I should support the England rugby team, I guess I do, but they don’t have the haka or Jonah Lomu knocking men aside like matchsticks).

The story is written from the perspective of one of the players and charts their journey across the ocean and their tour of Britain. The players are portrayed as ordinary young men: farmers, boot-makers, bankers and blacksmiths. Their winning streak as they travel across Britain makes them famous and we see how although they bask in their fame at first, later it becomes a hindrance and a burden to the team.

The book is very readable, with clean clear prose, although very stylised at times. Occasionally you feel you are reading sports commentary, and now and again as Jones describes matches, you almost are. I didn’t find that this took away from the enjoyment of the story and the wonderful writing. The team’s first impressions of England for example put a big, smile on my face as did the author’s description of Glaswegian hospitality and there is a conversation with the Irish which is absolutely hilarious.

Due to the subject matter I think that this book might not be for everyone, but I would not rule it out either. It touches on themes of nationality, celebrity, home, roots (many of the players are the children of British Immigrants and look for themselves in the Irish or Scottish) homesickness and fidelity and even on the horror of the Russian pogroms against the Jews.

A satisfying mix of travelogue, sports biography and evocative prose, that reminds you almost of surreal writers like Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson.

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