Thursday, 20 February 2014

Shadows on the grass

I discovered Simon Raven via that edition of "Alms for oblivion" that came out in 3 volumes about 20 years ago. Cricket features intermittently in the series  . There's a cracking line about Captain Detterling's late cutting being a bit too late and fine for its own good ( I paraphrase violently) and some stuff which the Rees-Mogg character pulls in a school match.  It is however for "shadows on the grass" which the great man ( Raven not William Rees-Mogg) will be be remembered in cricket circles .

Or is it?

Actually I think Shadows is probably better remembered for the E.M.Swanton line about it being "The filthiest cricket book ever written" than the book itself. From what I can remember, and remind myself from a quick read through now,  Shadows itself isn't actually all that filthy and doesn't have as much cricket in it as you 'd expect. It is as much an army memoir as anything else. Raven's novels contain more filth and not much less cricket I 'd say- which if nothing else suggests E.M.Swanton never read them.

The missionary part of this is to encourage people to read Alms for Oblivion. Yes the first few books seem a bit dated but do stick with it. He hits mid- season form from book 3 onwards and the runs keep flowing for the rest of the sequence. I would say how much better it is than  " a Dance to the music of time" to which it is usually compared-invariably in a favourable manner - but I have never actually read the latter and so hesitate to make a comparative statement about it. Which is another reason why I am not E.M.Swanton.

Coda: after Alms for Oblivion comes the First Born of Egypt sequence/sequel. These are bonkers! They start mad and get madder and madder.How much this has to do with the cricket interludes being replaced by real tennis I don't know. It may be that the causation flows in the opposite direction- as  Nigel Lawson once said-and the bonkers bit leads to nude real tennis replacing clothed,proper cricket.

Second Coda (if such a thing is allowed): a piece about cricket books being famous for a superlative statement in a review and no mention of CLR James....

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