Book Diary – May/June 2014

‘Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football’ by David Winner

Wednesday 28th May – Sunday 1st June

As can be seen from the fact that I read this book inside five days, I enjoyed it. However, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.

There was very little in the way of a history of the clubs and football in the Netherlands. Instead, it was a series of interviews with ex-players, mostly involved in the legendary Dutch/Ajax teams of the early 1970s which discussed specific events and subjects which influenced the footballing ‘personality’ of the Dutch team; how Dutch society had changed since WW2 and how this was reflected in the football; and where the national team went from there. In that sense, it had more in common with something like Jonathan Wilson’s ‘A History of England in Ten Matches’ than a straighforward historical account.

As a result, it was an interesting book but at the same time felt like a brief overview of something more detailed.

‘The Patience of the Spider’ by Andrea Camilleri

Tuesday 3rd June – Friday 6th June

As always, in the aftermath of a long book, I wanted to zip through a couple of quicker volumes. After Brilliant Orange I was tempted by another football book, Calcio, but opted for something equally Italian but less testing on the brain.

In this case, I chose another Montalbano novel, and as always I enjoyed it. It was the perfect alternative to a long, in-depth story. I’m always impressed by how Andrea Camilleri manages to squeeze so much story into so few words.

‘Watchmen’ by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Friday 6th June – Sunday 8th June

Having seen the film and heard very good things about this book, I decided to give it a go. As you may have surmised from my love of Tintin and my reading of Waltz With Bashir a while ago, I’m quite open to the idea of graphic novels as a form of story-telling.

First of all, I was impressed by how closely the film had followed the book. At the time it was criticised for following it too closely but for me that is rarely a problem.

Secondly, I was struck by how bleak the book was. The film wasn’t the usual superheroes-in-primary-coloured-spandex fare, but the book is significantly darker even than that. There is little in the way of hope or optimism, and many of the characters end the book compromised by the unfolding events. I was also impressed by how well the characters were conveyed to the reader through nothing more than dialogue and some pretty standard comic book drawing.

All in all, a very satisfying read, though not one to lift the spirits.

‘Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Sunday 8th June – Sunday 22nd June

Another novel whose reputation preceded it, I picked this up at a bargain price several months ago having heard good things from several sources. Fancying a change from football books or anything intellectual/educational, Emma helped me plump for Gorky Park.

I finished the book feeling ever so slightly uncertain. This can probably be explained by the fact that the novel doesn’t follow the traditional detective-story path and kept me guessing throughout. Also, I must be honest and say that my attention span has not been at its best recently and so there is a chance that I was kept guessing by my inability to follow a marginally more complicated plot than usual rather than because the book was overly cryptic.

One thing was for certain, Tom Rob Smith had replicated several elements of this story in his Child 44 and Secret Speech novels. Having read these first, I think Gorky Park lost something of the credit it deserved for originality and so my feeling for it are perhaps not as positive as it deserves. I would like to think that in a few years time I will pick it up again and re-read it and hopefully appreciate it more.

‘Calcio – A History of Italian Football’ by John Foot

Monday 23rd June – Wednesday 9th July

A very interesting but slightly flawed account of football in Italy.

This was much more the sort of book I was expecting when I read ‘Brilliant Orange’ at the end of May, covering everything from the histories of various famous clubs to the nature of the media coverage and even some notable referees.

The problems come from the way the book is organised. Rather than tell it as a linear history he splits it by subject which means that at times he is obliged to reference the same anecdote one multiple occasions. Secondly, several of the accounts of the older players and clubs are very brief and based almost entirely on rather laboured folk tales. Clearly, John Foot cannot be blamed for a lack of reliable evidence in these cases.

Where the book is at its best is when dealing in greater detail with more recent events such as calciopoli and the World Cup successes in the 1982 and 2006 competitions and the creative accounting which has kept some of the biggest clubs afloat in recent years.

It’s these better sections which make the book well worth reading, and a fascinating insight into a footballing culture which is so different from England’s in many ways.