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”.
16 thoughts on “Jennie Walker: 24 for 3 (2008) A Novel by Poet Charles Boyle”
Caroline, do you have any info on why the author wrote this under a fake different gender? Do gender roles get any special attention during the book? Other than Peirene, none of whose translations I have read yet, I can’t think of any translation-only publishing specialists. Will be interesting to hear if others come up with any names for some.
I left a comment on his blog so hopefully he will give us an answer. I read somewhere that it was a modesty thing, he didn’t want so much attention but this is weird as everybody knows already who is behind the name and he could have chosen a man’s name as well. He does a good job, no one would have suspected a male writer. I will have to do more research. I saw that there s a blog entry in which he writes about the writer Jennie Walker… Maybe he has two very distinct sides. I can relate to that. But this is pure speculation, of course.
I would be really interested to hear about other translation only editors. We will see what others say.
Richard, I am just back from Son of a Book’s Blog and he recommends the UK publisher that will start editing next year.
Just read their “About” page. Very interesting. Very.
I asked Charles about his choice of gender. Will see if we get an answer.
Yes we did and here it is:
A pen-name to disguise the original self-publishing (it’s easier to enthuse about a book to booksellers when it hasn’t got one’s own name on it). A female pen-name because, well, the book is first-person female narration and it just seemed to fit. There are precedents for this: a 1980 book by Don DeLillo, for example (see http://sonofabook.blogspot.com/2008/06/cleo-birdwell.html).
Those are lovely passages indeed. I never read book by a poet before, but I have read an unusual book before.
‘Unusual’ meaning that the way the writter wrote it is not like I have seen before. The Book is called Sayonara Gangsters by Genichiro Takahashi: http://t.co/15gGmgR
I like poetry. I wish I could write nice poems. I am good a short pieces, stories and longer things, novels even, but not good at poems. I will look up the link, your review, I guess? I like unusual writing styles. Not always but sometimes, it teaches you to see the world another way.
I was about to ask exactly the same question as Richard.
Isn’t it rare that a man should use a female pen-name?
The only one I can see is Philippe Labro using “Stéphanie” for his teenager book “Des Cornichons au chocolat”
Are there many details about cricket ? Sport metaphores kind of bore me. (I recently discovered that there is something more boring than lunches with men who talk about soccer : lunches with men who talk about golf, their scores and their golf clubs)
I really don’t know many men who use a female pen-name whereas there are many women who chose a male name. Charles was nice enought to le us know why he did so. There is a lot of talk about cricket but it’s not boring, it’s rather used to show the differences in the people and the way they perceive life, not only cricket. The narrator herself isn’t interested. It’s sounds like a complicated game. I am normally absolutely not into sporty things. I can’t imagine a lunch filled with soccer talk…I liked the allusions to colonialism, cricket is such a British game and all the countries that were part of the British Empire play cricket.
Caroline, this sounds wonderful! I love the idea of a very rich, but short novel, especially at this busy time of year.
I too was perplexed by why he’d choose a female pen name, but it makes more sense after reading the comments.
I still open it everyday at random and just read a paragraph, a few sentences… If his poetry is only half as good he must be a wonderful poet. I will have to read it soon. When I read his real name inside of the book I was a bit puzzled too at first. It’s an interesting idea…
I think this is the first time I’ve heard of a man writing under a woman’s name–though I could be wrong–no one else comes to mind off hand, though. You find the most unusual books and movies, though maybe it is only a matter of I don’t have as broad a selection here in the US–of non-English language or/non-US writers. I wonder if the metaphors on cricket would be lost on me as I am not at all familiar with the game, though what he has to say about Colonialism would be interesting. Europa Editions in the US (though I think the editors/founders are Italian) print mostly books in translation, though they also have a number of British authors. They publish Elena Ferrante here–I’ve quite liked the books I’ve read that they’ve published.
Charles menitoned de Lillo when I asked him. But it is unusual. The other way around is far more common, just thinking of “the Georges”, Sand and Eliot and some others. I have absolutely no clue regarding cricket but didn’t mind it. He doesn’t really speak about colonialism per se, maybe I was misleading, but names the different countries where it is played. It a very implicit novel, dense… But the style is incredible.
The German market is a great source for discoveries, and the French one. I always try to see wath foreign language books are translated. Sometimes the German market publishes the translation of an English book before it’s published i the UK/US.
I will have alook at Europa, just to get an impression.
Wonderful review, Caroline! Thanks for sending me the like to your review. ’24 for 3′ is one of my favourite books and I don’t know anyone else who has read it. (In case you are interested, you can find my review here.) So it was wonderful to know that you read it and loved it. It is wonderful to know that this book has been translated into German and published in Switzerland. How is the German translation? Thanks for giving the link to Charles Boyle’s blog. I would love to explore it sometime.
Have you read ‘Netherland’ by Joseph O’Neill? It is also a cricket novel, but it is set in post 9/11 New York. The narrator also narrates some of the events which happen in the Netherlands. O’Neill’s prose is quite poetic.
Thanks Vishy, now I’m surprised, i thought I was the only one who knew the book. I haven’t looked at the German translation. I visited Charles on his blog and left comments, he seems a very nice man. I’ll read your review soon.
I had totally forgotten Netherland, I did read it, just when it came out and it was quite good.
Nice to know that Charles Boyle is a nice guy and responded to your comments. Glad to know that you have read ‘Netherland’ and liked it.
I should check whether he has written anything else by now.
Yes, Netherland was good but my memory of it is a bit fuzzy by now. Lucky I have this blog now to help me remember. 🙂