Lloyd Jones – The Book Of Fame

28Jul09

Have you ever read a book, which fills you with guilt, because you haven’t really enjoyed it? For me, this book is Lloyd Jones’ The Book of Fame. I almost feel guilty about picking it up, because, when the book was being written, the author didn’t have a reader like me in mind.

This is the second book I’ve read this year written in a collective first person (the first being The Virgin Suicides), and this follows the inaugural All Blacks tour in 1905. It’s mostly an account of all the rugby games played by the All Blacks during this tour: the points they scored, the points scored against them, the amount of newspaper space devoted to them, and the hospitality of some countries, compared to the disdain of others.

Unfortunately, the problem stems from the fact that I am not a rugby fan, and I found that I cared very little about the scorecard when they played various local and national teams. The fact that this accounted for three-fourths of the book was a bit of a shame. Also, this followed twenty-seven characters, all from different backgrounds. No one character had a role that stood out more than the others, and keeping track of twenty-seven protagonists in a two-hundred odd page book is a bit of a task. Specially as there was nothing distinct that set them apart… eventually, all their characters merged into one – the collective narrator.

However, this is probably one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. The author, with blatant disregard for the rules of grammar, lets his thoughts and emotions flow, and the result is almost poetic. Also, despite the primary focus being on rugby, this book also shows how twenty-seven men, from different walks of life (miners, boot makers, bankers) come together, to show England what they’re made of. It shows their solidarity, their unity, and how they approach the game differently to their European counterparts, making it that much tougher for them to get beaten.

The morning after the match saw us clambering down various stairways to get to the newspapers to see what they had to say –
we were ‘slippery as eels’
‘persistent as wasps’
‘clever and alert as monkeys’
[we] worked together like the parts of a well-constructed watch’

Their success and on-field sportsmanship immediately led to them being adulated by the media. They couldn’t do anything wrong. Nothing diminished their popularity.

We were the stuff of the shop window
What children’s birthdays are made of
We were Christmas
The bubble in the pop
The jam on the bread
We were the place smiles came from

What Jones cleverly does is, combine the historical events of the time with the rugby games played by the All Blacks. So, when the team is comparing the number of lines The Times devotes to them, it’s against the world-events going on at the time: plague in India, Anglo-Japanese treaty, Italian earthquake, Warsaw bombings, bloodshed in Odessa. The ironic thing: more oft’ than not, the All Blacks got more coverage than world news! Just to note, while the events and games are all real, the personalities and off-the-field activities are purely fictional.

He also shows the fatigue and homesickness of these players, as the season tumbles on, and they’re playing game after game. A chapter of the book is actually called, Fatigue and the Irresistable Attraction of Defeat. Goes to show the frame of mind the Kiwis were in, towards the end of the English leg of their tour.

And then there’s the hospitality and charm of the Irish, but the lack of sportsmanship and sheer hostility of the Scottish; the latter didn’t even dine with the foreigners post the game! The excitement of being in Paris, or Paree, for it was not Wales or England, and the final leg at New York! It shows the injuries and illnesses of these players who dominated the fields like gods, and their hero’s welcome home, as they lost only the one game through the tour.

I cannot bring myself to rate this book, for, although the subject matter didn’t interest me at all, it really is a fantastically written and clever book. If you like rugby, pick it up – you won’t be disappointed. If you’re an avid sports fan, but not that much into rugby, I’d suggest avoiding it. And if you don’t like rugby, you’re missing out on some fine poetry, but, there are things targeted more to you than this.

Just to conclude, this is the first time I haven’t really enjoyed a book, but can’t wait to get cracking on another book by the author (in this case, it’s Mister Pip).

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8 Responses to “Lloyd Jones – The Book Of Fame”

  1. I loved Mr Pip!

  2. I have Mr Pip on the tbr but not getting to it yet as I’m reserving it, lol. I loved Great Expectations so sure to love that one.

  3. I almost bought a half-price (but new) copy of it today so that I could re-read it but it wouldn’t be for some time that I would get a chance to and I couldn’t justify it to myself.

    • Now, I feel bad that I didn’t read Mister Pip, but read this. However, if I had really enjoyed Mister Pip, I would’ve looked this one up, and then probably been more disappointed. So, I guess it’s alright!

      At half-price, I would’ve gone for it. Then again, I have no self-control. As Oscar Wilde once said, “can resist anything, but temptation”.

  4. Oh no am sad this wasnt as good as Mr Pip as I somewhere hoped all his books would be that wonderful, mind you I havent bought anything else by him ever so maybe that says something.

    • I read a couple of good reviews of ‘Here At The End Of The World We Learn To Dance’, but they seem to say it can’t touch Mister Pip. I think I’m going to try and find a copy of Mister Pip this weekend – it really does sound sublime.


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