Friday: as a Test match between England and India begins, a woman’s attention is torn between her husband’s insistence on explaining the rules of cricket, her lover’s preference for mystery, and the worrying disappearance of her sixteen-year-old stepson. By Tuesday night the outcome of the match will become clear – but whatever happens, the lives of the players will be changed forever. 24 for 3 is a funny and moving story about love, family, and whether or not one should always play by the rules.
24 for 3 is the first novel by poet Charles Boyle, written under the pen-name Jennie Walker. It is a very short novel, rather a novella. Crispy, clean prose, undoubtedly the work of a poet. Wonderful language. It’s a tricky little book as well. Tricky in many ways. Tricky because it didn’t find a publisher at first and Boyle published it himself and founded at the same time his own publishing house CB Editions. After he published it, he got a contract from Bloomsbury that’s why we can now read it in a brand-new outfit.
But it is tricky in many other ways. And quirky. You think it is a very small little book and that you can just gulp it down but you are wrong. This little treasure forces you to slow down and pay attention. Once it has made sure that you are focused it will enchant you completely. On barely more than 130 pages we get to read a linear novel, that can be read as such but, when paying really close attention, we realize what an ingenious composition it has. It consists of paragraphs which, in a lot of cases, can be read individually and work as poems, hint fiction and observations. Marvellous. Cricket serves as the backdrop on which a family history unfolds, a very rich tapestry of unusual relationships and non-traditional family life. And adultery. The narrator lives together with her husband, Alan, her step-son Selwyn and the former au-pair Agnieszka who has been staying with them for almost ten years. The woman who tells the story is drawn between her husband and her lover, a loss-adjuster. Surprsingly as this may seem, they are not at the heart of her emotional life. This place is occupied by her love for her step-son who disappears during the beginning of the five-day cricket test match. He ran off to stay with her lover.
The story is profound but I particularly apprecaited the style and would like to give you a few examples:
His face is lined; he looks older than Alan although in fact is younger. He has lived in cities and survived on little sleep. (s. 73)
Or this one that reads like a poem:
“What are you thinking about?”
“In general, or in particular?”
“In particular. You?”
“Ants. Oh, and hanging, shooting, poison.”
“Are you asking me to choose?” (s. 49)
Towards the end there are two pages which consist of 8 paragraphs that all begin with the words “We used to play…” and are allusions to lost joy, childhood, change, futility and memories.
And here is the narrator thinking about her two men and the choice she will be forced to make:
Me, I am married to a caring, conscientious man who rearranges cookery books by the light of the moon, and I rush away into the arms of a man who wears yellow Wellington boots and whose job – and possibly whose life too, if I cared to investigate further – reeks of doom, disaster, things gone awry.
Since this is a multilayered novel, allusions abound. I am sure many readers will understand these:
“Is that okay?”
It appears to be so. Indeed, Selwyn is safe, Agnieszka has not been raped, no rash crime of passion has been committed, no one has thrown him- or herself under the train. But it is not okay. (s.105)
There are many more great passages and sentences, as a matter of fact, one is tempted to quote the whole book. And then there is cricket. For those who like the game this will add additional charm, for those who don’t care about it, it’s another symbolical subtext to explore.
Apart from being a poet, an editor and a novelist Charles Boyle is also blogging at Son of a Book.
I came across 24 for 3 while browsing the site of the Swiss editor Unionsverlag who is dedicated to publish a very exquisite choice of translated books. I had to order the English original right away.
What English (or other) editors, apart from Peirene Press, do you know who publish only translated books?
Fünf Tage. Ein Spiel is the German title, its literal translation would be “Five days. One game”.