Dr Grace’s Gnome

Published: 2019
Pages: 108
Author: Fryer, John
Publisher: Private
Rating: 3 stars

I did wonder whether I might have made a mistake with this one. Any book that purports to be a biography of its owner written by a talking ceramic gnome is, I reasoned, asking for trouble. But I took on board that any profit from the book would go to the Australian equivalent of the Lord’s Taverners Charity, and that the writer and publisher, John ‘Trunkie’ Fryer, is a retired academic, the sort of background that tends to suggest any book they produce will be worth reading.

Except, of course, Fryer (the story of how he obtained the Trunkie nickname is one one of the book’s highlights) is merely a ghost. The real author is Godfrey, a 171 year old garden decoration who was gifted to William Gilbert Grace by his father, Dr Henry Grace, to celebrate WG’s birth in 1848. Godfrey was to remain with WG throughout his life. After his owner’s death in 2015 Godfrey then remained with his family until 1938 when, following the death of WG’s surviving son he faced the prospect of the saleroom,  Charles Butler Grace’s widow being obliged to downsize.

Fortunately for Godfrey at this point fate intervened in the form of the great Australian bowler, ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly, who decided to take Godfrey back to Australia at the end of his 1938 tour. Godfrey then spent his time happily with O’Reilly until the Tiger in turn passed in 1992. This time it was the auction house for Godfrey, and his long term cobber Arthur (Fred Grace’s gnome). The pair were fortunate in that in their case the hammer came down after a bid from Fryer, with whom they have happily co-existed ever since.

Some readers of Dr Grace’s Gnome might, in the circumstances, be looking for some salacious revelations given the closeness and duration of the relationship between Godfrey and WG and the secrets that must therefore have been shared between them. If so they will be disappointed as Godfrey does not breach any confidences.

What Godfrey does do is guide his ghost carefully through WG’s life. Inevitably time is spent on WG’s cricket career, but this is a rounded and full biography of the man who was cricket’s first global superstar. Fryer has not merely been a mouthpiece however. He has clearly checked Godfrey’s information with the work of other WG biographers, and with renowned historian Alfred James.

For someone wanting to read an informative and well written introduction to the life of WG Grace with an occasional humorous aside this one will fit the bill nicely. It is well produced, well illustrated and former Australian batsman Rick McCosker fully embraces the spirit of Godfrey’s work in an entertaining foreword

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