One Long and Beautiful SummerMartin Chandler |
Author: Hamilton, Duncan
Rating: 4 stars
Many years ago I used to read novels, and the best novels are genuinely gripping, by which I mean they are effectively, if not in reality absolutely, impossible to put down. No author managed that too often for me, but I certainly recall Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World fitting into that category, and David Storey’s This Sporting Life, as well as a few others.
Cricket books don’t operate in quite the same way, and indeed if anything it is comforting to put even the very best of them down for a while, mainly in order to savour the moment. Duncan Hamilton’s work is a fine example. Every Hamilton book I have read has been a pleasure, and One Long and Beautiful Summer is no different, which means that while taking a break from it is possible, doing so does create an anxiety to get back to the book.
And this is what caused me problems last Saturday. I had two allocated tasks, after which my day was my own. I had to mow the lawn and, after that, create a culinary masterpiece for my beloved wife or, failing that, just produce a decent evening meal. She was then due to spend the bulk of her day doing all manner of what I consider to be gardening chores, and the rest of my day, which should have amounted to at least four hours, I intended to spend with Hamilton’s latest.
I might have done better to mow the lawn first, rather than waiting until early afternoon. The problem was that every time I got to a natural break, usually but not always the end of a chapter, I persuaded myself to read just a little bit further. It then got to a stage where with rain clouds gathering I had to pause, and then ended up hurrying the job with the inevitable botched consequences. Dinner was much the same, and my muttered excuses cut little ice. My good lady said nothing, but I know that she knew what had gone wrong, and I have to accept that I deserved the occasional scowl that the evening brought my way.
But at least by then I had finished One Long and Beautiful Summer, a captivating and enchanting piece of work as Hamilton’s books always are. When it comes to writing he is very much his own man, but he is a little like the genius whose biography was his book of 2019, Neville Cardus. Hamilton’s prose has rather more ‘edge’ to it than that of Cardus, and is very much of the twenty first century in the same way that Cardus’s was of his time, but both have that priceless ability to transport their reader where they wish to take them.
Another feature of Hamilton’s work is that it gets the grey matter moving, gently persuading his reader to face up to having to form his or her own opinions and, perversely, it is as a result of that that I have to say there are some ways in which I rather regret opening One Long and Beautiful Summer at all. In 2009 Hamilton brought us A Last English Summer, another book of reflection and celebration that was motivated by the game being, seemingly, at something of a crossroads. Looking back now that had a similar effect on me, albeit on a smaller scale, Hamilton’s concern then being the threat to the primacy of the red ball by the white ball.
In some ways in 2019 the ‘threat’ was the same, but current global conditions mean that the continued existence of the game on any level is not guaranteed. That is a very grim prospect indeed and a possibility that neither Hamilton nor anyone else can rule out and, currently, looking forward there is not a lot of joy to be found. In the circumstances anyone who, like this reviewer, had been contenting themselves with the thought that everything would be back to normal by April 2021 might be better off denying themselves the, on one level, great delight of reading One Long and Beautiful Summer.
In terms of what the book is like it is not dissimilar to its predecessor, nor indeed to Michael Henderson’s That Will be England Gone that I reviewed only last week. Both books reference Philip Larkin, and both are written by masters of their craft albeit there is rather more description of cricket in Hamilton’s book than in Henderson’s.
There is one particularly striking chapter in One Long and Beautiful Summer and that concerns Hamilton’s visit to last year’s Headingley Test with its unforgettable denouement involving Ben Stokes remarkable innings and his partnership with Jack Leach. There is, many would say, no point in reading an account of such a match when the action can be watched at will on a screen. That view of the many, with which I largely agree, is the reason why tour books have all but disappeared from publishers’ lists, and why cricket reporters’ newspaper columns are very different from those of a generation ago. There does however remain a means of using the written word to add much to the experience and/or the memory, and Hamilton is certainly a master of that particular craft.
So reading One Long and Beautiful Summer is a bittersweet experience, but on balance one I’m glad I experienced – I just hope my worst fears turn out to be no more than that, and that Duncan Hamilton’s book on the summer of 2029 will be take its place on the shelves with other ‘Current Cricket’ titles, and not be consigned to ‘Sporting History’.