If you’re anything like me, you’re a sucker for cricket, romance and reading. When all these are combined together, it is even better. That is exactly what you get in Stuart Larner’s “Guile and Spin” – a fictional story of a man’s romantic feelings for a woman, which leads him on a journey full of twists and turns to a point where he discovers what cricket and true love is all about.
Set in the present day recession in Northern England, it is the story of protagonist Jeremy, a sports center manager with little interest in cricket and who is given the unenviable task of resurrecting a defunct historical cricket club with the intention of attracting government money to save crumbling facilities and jobs in the local Moxham Sports and Leisure Service.
Initially reluctant, he is enchanted into the role by Claire Spedman, an accomplished woman cricketer and newly appointed temporary teacher in a local school. He falls for her, and with the help of Claire, Fardeep Singh, a mystical Indian cricket coach and his new boss Richard Gregory, he sets out to learn the game and save his club. Whether he manages to do that and the ‘googlies’ he encounters along the way is the crux of the rest of the story.
This is Stuart Larner’s first foray into cricket novels, though he does have his own blog featuring short stories based on cricket. In “Guile and Spin”, Larner has attempted to incorporate cricket, humor, romance, oriental magic and sports psychology into a single story with the purpose of producing something which apart from being humorous and compelling, helps the reader to get into the mindsets of the players. His work will evoke comparisons with Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland” and Jennie Walker’s “24 for 3”; Other notable influences in his style of writing are Tom Sharpe, Bob Cattell and PG Wodehouse.
So, does it work? Well, if you’re a hardcore fan of cricket literature, this is a must-read. Larner’s vivid description of the game and the events surrounding them, make you feel as if you are right there along with the characters. He also manages to elicit emotional reactions from the reader at various points in the story, which is a hallmark of quality writing.
For a casual reader who has grown up on a diet of cricket journalism and is reading cricket fiction for the first time, it might take a little bit of getting used to at first. For readers unfamiliar with England and it’s cricket scene, some of the lines might just fly over their heads. Still others may find the prose very heavy-handed and off putting. All these are minor quibbles and doesn’t take away from a wonderfully written and well paced story.
Personally, the winning component of the book is the rich tapestry of characters. There is the protagonist whose cynicism and apathy towards cricket finds itself being slowly chipped away in a phase of transition as he comes in contact with a bunch of weird and interesting people. There is the cricketer/school teacher whose intentions are too good to be true. The shifty boss, a exotic Indian coach, an American celebrity chef – these are just some of the wonderful characters you will encounter in this fascinating book.
There is also something in it for those who are interested in sports psychology. Larner does a good job of illustrating this in regards to techniques that assists in concentration. So, not only has he managed to write a humorous story with a cricket theme, he has rendered a serious and analytic look at concentration-enhancing techniques which can be applied in modern sport. Kudos to Stuart Larner for that!
All in all, this would make for a wonderful read this holidays or even a great Christmas gift for a cricket nut you know. Highly recommended!
GUILE AND SPIN
by Stuart Larner
You can purchase it here.