Wednesday, 12 May 2010

On Snooker by Mordecai Richler

On Snooker: The Game and the Characters who Play it by Mordecai Richler (Knopf Canada 2001)

This is a weird book, weird in the sense that two parts of life I always considered separate somehow manifest themselves into this one volume and I found it very hard reconciling my visions of Mordecai Richler as a working class Jewish, smoked meat sandwich eating hustler from St. Urbain Street in Montreal with the waistcoats, bow ties and bottled water that is the professional snooker circuit in Britain.

Richler's book details the origins of the game and the word itself and goes into the lives of some of the characters of the game. Alex Higgins man seemingly wrought on self-destruction, Jimmy White who seems to have done pretty well for himself despite his perennial loser tag, the successful but largely ignored Canadian Cliff Thorburn, the less successful but much more of a cause célèbre in Kirk Stevens. He, however, does not place his loyalty where the drama lies as it seems most fans do, he pins all his hopes on Stephen Hendry winning that one more world championship.

What is more interesting is why Richler is a fan himself. Richler tells us that 'North American literary men in general, and the Jewish writers among them in particular, have always been obsessed by sports. We acquire the enthusiasm as kids and carry it with us into middle age and beyond, adjudging it far more enjoyable than lots of other baggage we still lug around. Arguably we settled for writing, a sissy's game, because we couldn't "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee," pitch a curveball, catch, deke, score a touchdown.'

I want Richler's life. He spent half his year wintering in England living in an apartment in Chelsea (an was hence able to follow the snooker) and the other half in Canada spending his summers on Lake Memphremagog. I feel that we would have gotten on very well, Hendry was my favourite player, I also have an irrational dislike towards Stephen Lee. If you know snooker then this book won't tell you too much that you didn't already know but my image of Richler is now radically altered. I particularly like his reasons for why Snooker gave him hope and I shall end on that:

"Look at it this way: if Higgins could make a maximum, or David Cone pitch a perfect baseball game, then just maybe, against all odds, a flawless novel was possible. I can't speak for other writers, but I always start out pledged to a dream of perfection, a novel that will be free of clunky sentences or passages forced in the hothouse, but it's never the case. Each novel is a failure of sorts. No matter how many drafts I go through, there will always be compromises here and there, pages that will make me wince when I read them years later. But if Higgins could achieve perfection, maybe, next time out, I could too."