Sunday, 17 January 2021

The Game by Jack London + #FreeBook

The Game by Jack London
Published by Macmillan in June 1905.

How I got this book:
Downloaded as the ForgottenBooks free book of the day

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the eve of their wedding, twenty-year-old Jack Fleming arranges a secret ringside seat for his sweetheart to view her only rival: the 'game'. Through Genevieve's apprehensive eyes, we watch the prizefight that pits her fair young lover, 'the Pride of West Oakland', against the savage and brutish John Ponta and that reveals as much about her own nature, and Joe's, as it does about the force that drives the two men in their violent, fateful encounter. Responding to a review that took him to task for his realism, Jack London wrote, 'I have had these experiences and it was out of these experiences, plus a fairly intimate knowledge of prize-fighting in general, that I wrote "The Game"'.
With this intimate realism, London took boxing out of the realm of disreputable topics and set it on a respectable literary course that extends from A. J. Liebling to Ernest Hemingway to Joyce Carol Oates. The familiarity of London's boxing writing testifies to its profound influence on later literary commentators on the sport, while the story "The Game" tells remains one of the most powerful and evocative portraits ever given of prizefighters in the grip of their passion.

The Game is a short story in two halves, the first of which shows us a young couple on the day before their wedding, picking out carpets for their new home together, and the second half describes a boxing match in pretty vicious detail. The story itself is only about 40 pages, but padded out in the edition I read with lots of line drawn illustrations so the whole book is double the length it needs to be. I don't mind illustrated works, but this felt overdone. London doesn't help the sense of the book being strung out with his frequently repetitive prose either! 

I remember being impressed with London's writing about a decade ago when I went through a phase of listening to lots of his short stories. The Game wasn't one of them then which was why I picked it up now, but I'm wondering if my reading observations have changed a lot over those years or if this is just a weak story. The lead characters, Joe and Genevieve, are more caricature than authentic-feeling people and I was shocked at the blatancy of London's racism. Genevieve lives with an older Jewish couple whose speech is written entirely phonetically with, at one point, a long argument recounted purely to point fun at them for their use of English language. London also really labours the cleanliness and whiteness of his young paramours as positive traits to which readers should aspire, before contrasting their appearance with Joe's opponent in the boxing ring, John, a swarthy man who he frequently describes as an animal. 

The underlying narrative is an interesting story and I did like London's evocations of a certain time and place. The dingy boxing club is memorably portrayed and I even enjoyed watching the fight through Genevieve's eyes which surprised me as I don't watch the sport in real life. However, overall, The Game left me with a rather sour opinion of London now so I don't know if I would attempt reading his work again.


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Books by Jack London / Short stories / Books from America

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, after reading your review I think I'll skip this one.