Book Of The Year Award 2012 > The Following Game
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When the first page of a book assures you that this is not a book about cancer, the wary reader tends to assume that it might actually be just such a book. This is only tangentially true. Jonathan Smith, Head of English at Tonbridge School and writer of novels and plays, had always planned to write a book about being not just a follower and a fan but one who had a special interest. That interest was his son Ed, of Kent, Middlesex and England and the book was accelerated by a diagnosis of cancer without the main theme being overtaken by the illness. A trip with his son to India gave Jonathan Smith the chance to spend time with his son, explore his own ideas about life and cricket and to surreptitiously write large portions of this book.
Reflective, is the first word that comes to mind when reading through this account and scholarly, the second. Not as in the accepted usage of the word but rather as a teacher of literature passing on his thoughts and views as he writes. The book is not exactly a stream of consciousness but does tend to wander off at tangents as ideas and their implications strike the author and that makes for a slightly more difficult story to follow but compensates with the increased breadth of ideas. There also can't have been many, if any, books that have dealt with the complex problems that the career of a successful child can bring, particularly in the field of cricket where Jonathan Smith would have loved to make his mark, possibly at the expense of his distinguished academic and literary life. There is a fearful amount of superstition involved as he tremulously watches Ed's burgeoning career, although many will be familiar with their root - don't move or he will be out - go to the toilet when you don't need to so that a wicket might fall - just two of the more common ones that stud the book.
Readers looking to glean more information surrounding Ed Smith's departure from Kent will look in vain because it is covered in a couple of words with no additional explanation, which is a touch odd, considering the importance of his son's life and career to his father. Readers will learn about poetry, celebrity, plays, India and many other diverse areas of the author's life. The book has been proofed admirably, although popular culture is a bit wonky; it's Eddie Cochran not Cochrane and the pneumatic Miss Tina Turner's anthem, hammered to death lately at major sports events, is Simply The Best.
It's a book that flows gently on, without perhaps being instantly memorable but it could just be worth a publisher taking a punt on the author writing a book solely on cricket. That might be a very interesting prospect
As for the cancer? Sufferers will know better than to be absolute but for Jonathan Smith, the news at the moment is good - and that has to be the best message from the book.
Peridot Press, 12 Deden Mill Business Centre, Woodbridge, IP12 1BL www.peridot.co.uk £14.99