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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Game, Set, Match

October is National Book Month, a good time to spend more time reading a few more good books. Although, for me, any time when I am not on the courts or walking FrankieB is a good time. It's also the month when I leaf through my back issues of The Sunday New York Times Book Review, scanning for books to order in time for Christmas. There was one, however, that I found a few months ago—only an enticing quarter-page ad; sadly, no review—which I just could not resist immediately ordering. Especially since it is about tennis.

The Tennis Player from Bermuda**, a novel by Fiona Hodgkin, published in August, arrived in yesterday's mail from a small book store in London after a long two-month wait. Although I was in the middle of yet another book, there was something about its light blue cover with a player clad in a white, blousy tennis dress swinging a wooden racket that compelled me to start reading Hodgkin's novel. After all, it was raining; not a day to be out on the courts. So, I figured the next best thing to playing tennis was reading about it. Once I started, nothing yesterday afternoon and evening could compel me to put it down. I was so immersed in the story of Fiona, its heroine, and so engrossed in her tennis matches, that I read this historical novel, cum literary romance in one sitting—finally getting to bed at 2:00 this morning. It is that good.

Written as a fictionalized autobiography set in both Bermuda and England in the early 1960s, Fiona tells of perfecting her tennis game under the tutelage of former professional player Rachel Martin, with the dream of playing in the Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Cricket Club in Wimbledon, England. In late March of 1962, a pre-med student at Smith College and a starring member of its inter-collegiate woman's tennis team, she finally gets her chance when an unexpected telegram arrives inviting her to play—amateur status—in the Wimbledon 1962 qualifying three-round tournament at Roehamption in June.

Hodgkin's novel is not only a great story, but is also a compendium of juicy historical tennis tidbits, terms, and techniques, with blow-by-blow descriptions of play action that puts the reader smack-dab on the courts in the midst of it all. Although, some of her explanations may be a bit too intricately complex and technical for the average public court duffer; even I had to draw a diagram or two to follow some of the more complicated rallies. Be that as it may, her writing style is fluidly conversational, written from a reminiscing reflective perspective when Fiona is in her very late 60s; almost as if she was courtside sipping an after-match gin and tonic confidentially telling her story to a close friend. And while this is, indeed, the story of young women striving to compete on the international level, it is also a touchingly poignant coming-of-age love story. As we watch Fiona grow and mature as a tennis player, we also watch her grow and mature into blossoming womanhood, coming to grips with what it really means to be an adult responsibly in love (no pun intended).

I also thoroughly enjoyed Hodgkin's almost touristy guidebook set-in-dialogue descriptions of Bermuda, upon which most of the action of The Tennis Player from Bermuda takes place. She sprinkles her narrative with not only historical facts about the island, but also with salient facts about its social norms, traditions, and customs of the mid-Twentieth Century. These last are delightful to read and add a very real, humanistic quality to the overall plot line. Fiona, in fact, as both author and protagonist leads one to almost believe that she was, is a real person who actually did play tennis in 1962, really making it to Wimbledon—although the extent player rosters I researched do not, of course, list her as a competitor. I also most enjoyed the meticulous descriptions and insider information of and about Wimbledon and its famous Centre Court. Having not (yet) been there, however, I felt as if I was, so convincingly realistic is Hodgkin's writing.

This is a wondrously creative and richly rewarding read. It is almost like physically playing a real match out there on the competitive courts of literature. Except that everyone, author, heroine, and reader alike, are all winners.
** © 2012 Fiona Hodgkin. 383 pages, paperback. Matador/Troubador Publishing, Ltd., Leicestershire, UK.

1:08 pm edt          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast


Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood



Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her sixth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,