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Book Review
The Network
Published: 2010
Pages: 509
Author: Richard Heller
Publisher: Bearmondey Publishing
Rating: 3 stars
By David Taylor
08 May 2011
The Network

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed A Tale of Ten Wickets by onetime Mail on Sunday writer Richard Heller. This is a sequel of sorts, in that he employs some of the characters from that book, albeit in minor roles. As it appears to be taking part some years after the events in that story (it could even be in real time, given that they were written 16 years apart), most of the main characters from this book are far too young to have featured in both.

The story here centres on the friendship between Steve, 16, who is sensitive, intelligent and athletic, the only child of parents seemingly too busy to give him much attention, and Cal, a younger, vulnerable, artistically gifted
boy who has suffered from bullying in the past. Both live for their cricket - Steve as a fast bowling all-rounder, Cal as a left-arm spinner who impresses Steve on their first meeting, at the nets, with his variations. Before long Steve is being invited home to meet Cal's mother Alice, a children's lawyer - but it soon becomes apparent that he has had an unhappy childhood himself, and is still grieving for the uncle he worshipped and whose love of reading he has inherited.

As Steve's cricket starts to take off and also encompasses coaching, we are re-introduced to many of the characters from A Tale of Ten Wickets such as Tim Morrow, a young boy in the earlier book but now an England batsman (Heller also brings himself, or at least someone with his name, into the plot late on, which seems odd, to say the least). He also acquires a girlfriend and a new school, both of which bring him much happiness. A word here about the style, which takes some getting used to. There is no narrative in the normal sense of the word. Everything is related in the first person, but by several of the main characters - either thought, spoken, or told after the event. Each of them is represented by a different font. It isn't as confusing as it may sound, and it helps the story to move at a fast pace, like Steve's bowling.

Not strictly a book about cricket, but one in which cricket plays a large part in helping two damaged youngsters, I did find it a little over-sentimental at times. Some of the young people portrayed here are implausibly sweet-natured, with Steve himself verging on saintliness - some of us who have been parents of teenagers ourselves may have had a somewhat different experience. But the writer does a good job of conveying the insecurities and awkwardness of adolescence, while the cricket scenes are, for the most part, true to life. Certainly worth checking out.


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