The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

This was recommended to me by my bookworm brother, who commutes to the City of London every day and gets through a lot of books as he angles for a seat along with hundreds of other people.

I enjoyed it a lot, though it is not perfect – what book is? The Great Gatsby perhaps; Bleak House? The Corrections?

The story is about baseball, in a way, though that is only the prism through which lots of other things are highlighted and left for us to ponder. As someone who knows almost nothing about baseball, some of the technical detail was hard to follow. But it didn’t matter; and I think such an intelligent writer would be hoping that, for most readers, it simply enhances the sense of things mysterious and ineffable that lie behind our human experience.

Herman Melville figures quite largely in the book, in various ways. Characters like ‘Starblind’ and ‘Izzy’ obviously offering echoes, just in their names, of some of those in Moby Dick. The college where most of the story is set draws its identity from Melville, at the instigation of one of the central characters who becomes college President and plays a central role in the water-based denouement of the book.

Like some other novels about young people and students, it seemed to me to attribute to some characters an insight and wisdom that can only come from experience (Donna Tartt’s The Secret History being a prime example). Sorry, I’ll rephrase that: when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was a superficial time-waster, wholly incapable of profound thoughts about literature, art and the meaning of life. I did OK academically but was not, by any stretch of the imagination, wise. Yet the college students in this book seem very, very wise and I sometimes wondered whether that was completely believable.

I have often wondered whether I was more of a superficial time-waster than others and, yes, everyone is different. So the possibility of being young but also wise, well-read and insightful into others’ souls is not one I reject. I am just not easily convinced of it.

But the characters are very strong and you do begin quickly to care about  them and to want to know what happens to them. The style is nicely paced and carries you forward easily.

A very good book indeed.


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