“A Natural” – no reservations!
By Ralph McAllister
After last month’s somewhat querulous review, it is good to be able to recommend this month’s selection, without reservation.
A Natural by Ross Raisin is the story of a young professional footballer in modern day north of England.
For a time he is viewed as a rising star, a natural, as his coaches label him.
Soon, like so many, he is out of favour, is forced to join, on loan, a conference team and his form slumps.
Now, if you are beginning to think, ah not for me, not interested in football, let me hasten to reassure you, that is not what the novel is.
There are no gay footballers???
It is a painful and touching account of Tom’s growing awareness of his sexuality. He is gay.
In present day England 4000 professionals play football.
Officially, not one of them is homosexual.
Justin Fashanu a young professional came out some years ago.
His brother John rejected him, even paid him to keep quiet.
Justin committed suicide in his late thirties.
A Natural gives little hope for the future as Tom begins an affair with a local groundsman and his secret identity is revealed.
And yet in the very telling of this fiction Raisin brings up issues of love and loyalty and hypocrisy which go a long way towards helping understanding.
The German Olympics
Another sporting story, this time a social documentary which reads like a novel.
Berlin in 1936 –Sixteen Days in August by Oliver Hilmes is, as the title suggests, an account of the Olympic Games where Hitler set out to prove the superiority of the white race.
What is exciting is the meticulous attention to detail as each chapter, sixteen in all, introduces people from all walks of life, young and old,famous and infamous.
This a hugely readable social view of the people who were there, the athletes, the politicians, the survivors, and those who died.
- 20,000 doves released at the opening ceremony.
- Locals prevented from hanging their washing out to dry.
Or, did you know that the flame carrying was started by the organisers of 1936? I didn’t.
A couple of beauties
So even if you are not remotely interested in sport, I urge you to try these two splendid books.
They will almost certainly go into my best books of the year, even if we are still in May.
Another two novels about secrets are ready for review, when my editor permits.
(Ed: any time!)