A Sky Blue LifeRodney Ulyate |
Author: Maurice Moiseiwitsch
Publisher: Macdonald Queen Anne Press
Rating: 2 stars
Cricket literature, panoptic in scope and lofty in calibre, is acknowledged by all with the brains to appreciate it as the finest in the sporting canon. Its exponents are to its subjects as was Homer to Troy, Taylor to music and Ruskin to art: and to ideate greater nonfictional heights than those attained by such as Cardus, Thomson and Kilburn is well nigh impossible.
And it is, arguably, just this which makes so conspicuous the comparative dearth, in both quantity and quality, of cricket fiction. Readable though most of it is — and, if reports effusing from the US are to be believed, Joseph O’Neil’s Netherland is very readable indeed –, it lacks altogether the panache and authority of its true-to-life counterpart.
A Sky-Blue Life, Maurice Moiseiwitsch’s operose opus, is a prime example, poor not only by the standards of cricket but those of literature in general. It is not so much about cricket as the personal lives of its exponents, and is accordingly glutted with such romance as would make even Danielle Steele wretch. Although it claims to be a cricket book, the cricket is largely incidental. Given the author’s derisory knowledge of it, however, that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The solecisms are legion: wicketkeeper Wilson is indisposed by a rogue pad strap; yorkers are played off the back foot because, somehow, they imperil the batsman’s kisser, liable as they are to “bounce up under his chin and knock him cold”; captain Driffield, Corinthian to a fault, does not for a second consider playing for a draw in spite of the fact that his side requires 473 to win in four sessions on a quagmire; “midfield” is apparently a bona fide fielding position; and, in one particularly vexatious instance, an Australian fast bowler fires in a short ball that the batsman guesses will “turn in a little”, as a consequence of which it is necessary to “half-volley ruthlessly”. That he does so with success is even more confounding.
John Arlott, typically, summed it up best: “When Mr. Moiseiwitsch’s characters are talking of life or rivalry, sex or ambition, they are convincing: as cricketers they live in an incredible world.”
For all his modernist puerility and cricketing nescience, however, Moiseiwitsch has obvious narrative ability and a very engaging style: it is prolix but piquant, histrionic yet charming, inflated but well-dilated. It calls for no small tolerance on the part of the reader, but it is for the most part readable. If your greatest loves in life are cricket and Mills & Boon, you will find it utopic; if they are not, it will be no less a handful than the author’s name.