The Following Game

Published: 2011
Pages: 222
Author: Smith, Jonathan
Publisher: Peridot Press
Rating: 4.5 stars

The Following Game

There has, from time to time, been some discussion amongst the CW review team as to whether we should incorporate a feature in our reviews that allows them to be searched for by category or, if you must use that now rather over-worked expression, by genre. That it hasn’t happened is due in part to inertia, and in part to a lack of unanimity about how exactly the lines should be drawn. If we were to have the discussion again in the future I would cite The Following Game as the best reason not to do it – quite simply it defies categorisation.

Author Jonathan Smith was Head of English at Tonbridge school for many years. He has written novels and plays and an acclaimed volume of autobiography,The Learning Game. He has also co-written a cricket book when, a quarter of a century ago, he helped Tonbridge old boy Christopher Cowdrey write his autobiography Good Enough.

Clearly a lifelong cricket lover Smith never played the game to a particularly high standard, but his son, Edward Thomas Smith, simply “Ed” to cricket supporters the world over, was a successful batsman for Kent, Middlesex and, briefly, England. Ed retired from the game after breaking his ankle in the 2008 season – given what I now know of his paternal influence it is no longer a surprise to me that he now displays as much talent as a writer as he once did as a batsman.

So is The Following Game a second volume of autobiography? The answer must be no, albeit a qualified no. Is it a book about Ed? He certainly represents a significant character in the book, but ultimately he is something of a peripheral figure and this is no sort of a biography. In some ways it is a book about parenting, but not a treatise on how to bring up a child. Smith does however vividly illustrate the often uneasy mix of fear, worry, pride and elation, and all points in between, that come from following the journey of a child trying with all his might to pursue the dream the father himself lacked the ability to begin to embark on.

There is also something of a travel book in here, the catalyst for the writing of the book being a trip by father and son to India following the father’s diagnosis with cancer. We hear little more about that particular subject which, I hope, means all is well or, at least, as well as it can be. I must admit that I feared the early mention of that terrible disease might define the book, but the reality is that while the subject might linger in the reader’s mind that is not because the author writes about it.

A final ingredient is the love of poetry that both generations of the Smith family share and this is a theme that crops up at regular intervals throughout the book. I must confess that most poetry, the occasional war sonnet of Owen, Brooke or Sassoon apart, leaves me cold, but the way that the examples he cites are introduced here by Jonathan Smith made me realise that perhaps a rethink is needed.

Having finished the book I am none the wiser as to how to categorise it, other than under “bloody good”. In truth I might be a bit mean in docking the book half a star – perhaps if other reviews indicate I am out of step Archie might let me sneak back in and reinstate it!

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