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Book DetailsISBN: 9781925355215
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Book Review: Rules Of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong - Reviewed by CloggieA (22 Aug 2016)
“I no longer know where this ritual came from: the bat, the tennis ball, the twelve metres of shorn grass. There’s a line somewhere in any childhood. Before the line, all knowledge and habit is contributed by adults. How to eat with a fork, wash your face, wipe your bum. On the other side of the line, the magpie child starts to gather and collect from everywhere. How to swear. How to kiss a girl. Where you go to die. Backyard cricket must have been absorbed on the parental side of that line”
The Rules of Backyard Cricket is the second novel by Australian author, editor, surfer and former lawyer, Jock Serong. Darren Keefe lies in the boot of a car speeding along the Geelong road towards Melbourne, bound at the wrists and ankles with cable ties, a bullet wound to the knee, sharing the space with a shovel and bags of quicklime. To pass the time as he heads towards his (almost certain and very probably violent) death, he recalls the events of his life that have led to his current, unenviable situation.
“It’s pointless, this. Clinging to memories. Rewinding them, replaying them. But it’s compulsive: I feel them rushing forward to be counted, the people and occurrences whose very existence depends on me recalling them”. Darren’s thoughts turn to where it all began: endless summers in their Altona backyard, bowling to his brother, Wally, older by almost two years, on their carefully mown cricket pitch, with their single mother, Pamela, supporting their every foray into the cricket world.
Darren’s unique perspective on his life (that of someone likely to soon die) ensures honesty, self deprecation and quite a bit of black humour. He acknowledges the differences between the brothers: “It’s the Big Guy who sets us on the paths of our typecasting. Wally as responsible, grave: a leader. Me as a force of nature: a talented freak with no mooring” and “One columnist says he’d pay to watch Darren Keefe because something amazing might happen, but he’d bet the house on Wally Keefe, because the necessary will happen”.
Serong begins each chapter with Darren’s efforts to unbind himself, to effect an escape. As Darren reflects on their lives, their careers successes and failures, plenty of topical issues affecting professional sports are examined from an intimate perspective: corruption and match fixing, the prevalence of drug taking, sledging, Australia’s love affair with cricket and the tolerance of unacceptable behaviour in sportsmen. “It’s a euphemism, larrikin, a kind of willing blindness about character flaws”. Serong also touches on some perennial themes: loyalty, sibling rivalry, violence, sacrifice, infidelity and dementia.
While it is not necessary to be an expert about the game or even a fan to enjoy this novel, a rudimentary knowledge of cricket will add to the appreciation of the story. But, as Serong states in his acknowledgements, the story could have been written with any professional sport as background. And the goings-on he describes are all too believable. Serong gives the reader a plot that at first seems predictable, but unexpected revelations will elicit gasps and a few twists will keep the pages turning to the shocking conclusion.
Serong’s descriptive prose is wonderfully evocative: “…a black and silver knot of photographers and equipment completely obscures the entryway from the arrivals hall” and “…I care a great deal about the idea of a father. A dad. So I collect the little clues she leaves. I go through private drawers sometimes, searching for his identity. I build him painstakingly from these twigs and straws, but the shape he takes always feels hollow” are examples. And another:
“As he waits, he’s a helmeted statue, silent and implacable. I’ve never seen him brush a fly in that state. They could wander over his face, even up his nostrils and he wouldn’t know. It seems like languor if you don’t know what to look for. But it’s the invisible building of energy and focus to a point of detonation, a form of biomechanical perfection only revealed in slow motion”
Fans of Serong’s work will not be disappointed; readers new to his work will want to seek out his first novel, Quota. This is literary crime at its best. Both funny and tragic, this is a brilliant read.
Jock Serong lives and works on the far southwest coast of Victoria. Formerly a lawyer, he is now a features writer, and the editor of Great Ocean Quarterly. His first novel, Quota, won the 2015 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel. His most recent novel is The Rules of Backyard Cricket. Jock is married with four children and lives in Port Fairy, Victoria.
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