Reading Beartown this month, and spending time watching the Australian Open tennis, has made me think about great sporting moments in novels. Do you have some favourite fictional sporting matches? I love the Quidditch games in the Harry Potter books, but that, of course, is not an actual sport. I find cricket hideously boring in real life, but am happy to read about it, and there’s a great cricket match in The Go-Between when young Leo executes a stunning catch. I also love the Aussie country cricket match in Mates at Billabong when Jim Linton saves the day for his team. Anthony Trollope imagines a cricket match set in the future in his strange novel The Fixed Period in which machines bowl the ball – he makes it sounds quite exciting.
I had to play school hockey for one hideous term (every girl in the team was bigger than me – the sight of some stick-wielding girl charging towards me was utterly terrifying) but I did love reading of girls in school stories playing hockey – Babs Redfern in the Bessie Bunter books was a superb hockey player, if I recall. Lucia of the glorious Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson takes up golf, though she thinks it is a “foolish game”, and there are some hilarious matches in the series between Major Benjy and Captain Puffin.
P.G. Wodehouse includes great comic golf games in his Jeeves and Wooster novels, James Bond plays golf against Goldfinger (when Sean Connery had to play golf for the film version of the scene, it began his life-long addiction to the game), and there’s a great scene in The Great Gatsby when Jordan Baker cheats at golf.
The best description ever written of a rugby game comes from P.G. Wodehouse in The Ordeal of Young Tuppy. Tuppy, who is trying to prove himself a hero of the field to the girl he loves, spends the game being buried deep in mud, getting bruised, and disappearing beneath what seems like a herd of charging wild beasts – a wonderfully apt description of ‘thugby’, in my opinion. Kiwi author Lloyd Jones has a novel about rugby called Book of Fame which I enjoyed.
Swimming and surfing feature largely in Australian novels – Puberty Blues, Barracuda, Breath, The Life, amongst others. Mary Wesley’s Jumping the Queue opens and closes memorably with a swimming scene.
Reading about sport is not something I usually do. I never go near the sports section of a bookshop (unless buying a gift for husband or sons), I do not read the sports pages in a newspaper. However, I do occasionally enjoy a sporting episode in fiction.
Have I missed any of your special favourites? Do let me know in a comment.
Beartown by Fredrik Backmann
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, boxed set
The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
Mates at Billabong by Mary Grant Bruce
The Fixed Period by Anthony Trollope
Mapp And Lucia by E.F. Benson
Jeeves & Wooster Omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse
Goldfinger by Ian Fleming
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Book Of Fame by Lloyd Jones
Puberty Blues by Gabrielle Carey & Kathy Lette
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
Breath by Tim Winton
Jumping The Queue by Mary Wesley