Not a Games Person is about rather more than being a hopeless case on the playing fields. It's about fear and the causes of fear - the hovering proximity of death, madness, insecurity and about those moments in the relationship between parent and child when the other party appears or feels incomprehensibly "other".
Throughout the book, we cut back to that scene "in the middle of a field... in the middle of England" and trace Julie's sack-race experience in sepia slo-mo, privy to all the childhood anxieties and ethical issues a simple race can - and did - arouse. In the intervening sections we meet the games teachers who failed to inspire the author; relive the trauma of her first (and only) attempt at horse-vaulting, and get to know her family. Especially the men. While we meet her sisters, her mother and granny, their reassuring stability renders them - paradoxically - shadowy.
The men, by virtue of their unpredictability, comparative absence and closer psychic relationship to the author, are thrown into much sharper relief. There's the father who didn't like talking, believed in nothing and, having failed to die of two life-threatening illnesses with which he was fallaciously diagnosed (a heart condition in childhood and liver disease as an adult) ends up killing himself. Her maternal grandfather had more than a touch of the Kit Smarts (Smart was an 18th-century poet thrown into Bedlam for excessive praying in public), is banned from visiting his grandchildren and "has been thrown out of seven churches and even they weren't proper ones!".
Finally, there's Myerson's son, to whom this book is dedicated. He's "other", because he's a boy; trusting and secure in a way his mother never was; happy to compete for things he cares about. "Where did it come from? What was it for? What would happen to it as you grew older?", Myerson asks of this alien confidence.
The answer to her second question is, it seems, partly located in the antidote her son's otherness provides to the games-related (and other) tensions that plagued the preceding three generations.
Lisa Gee's 'Friends' is published by Bloomsbury
- More about: