Cricket has featured in English fiction from The Pickwick Papers and Tom Brown's Schooldays in the Victorian era through PG Wodehouse's Mike stories and the between-the-wars nostalgia of AG Macdonell's England, Their England and Hugh de Selincourt's The Cricket Match.
Even the Americans had a go recently with Netherland, Joseph O'Neill's post-9/11 novel about New York cricketers. And now the much-garlanded writer Stephen Chalke has stepped to the crease with what he says is "a fictionalised diary of my own cricketing year". As one who has played cricket with the author for over 20 years, I can testify that there is far more diary than fiction in his account of captaining a lowly league side in Wiltshire while also turning out for the wandering friendly side he helped to found.
Why not, then, just play it straight? Possibly because changing names and locations has given Chalke more freedom to discuss his team-mates, and his family, without the fear of offending any sensibilities. There is plenty of humour as, using the nom de jeu Philip Stone, he recalls desperate scrambles to field a full team, and the foibles of the players finally assembled. But he doesn't play it strictly for laughs in the vein of Marcus Berkmann's book with a similar theme, Zimmer Men; interwoven is a more introspective thread.
Remembering how his father made a fool of himself at the age of 62 in his last game, Stone/Chalke reflects on his childhood and relationship with his parents, while wondering whether he is also in danger of making a fool of himself by playing on. An unusual book, beautifully written, in my opinion it works triumphantly on several levels. But as I'm close to the subject, you will have to make up your own minds.
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