McEwan & Naipaul

Two books I read this summer mention squash.

One is Ian McEwan’s 2014 novel The Children Act. In my SquashWord blog in July 2007, I wrote about McEwan’s well-known use of squash in his novel Saturday.

In The Children Act, McEwan mentions squash once. On the Wandsworth Road in South London, the protagonist passes an old cinema that had been converted into squash courts. Years ago, her estranged husband “had played to the limits of endurance to make eleventh place in an all-London tournament. And she, loyal young wife, somewhat bored, placed well back from the glass-fronted court, peeping from time to time at her notes on a rape case she was defending and would lose.”

Playing to eleventh place in a masters tournament, that is definitely a bit unusual for the 1980s or early 1990s (when the protagonist would have been a young wife) or even today. That is mostly something seen at junior events. And an all-London event. Not sure what that means. The day of a city-wide tournament, those are long long gone, mostly. NY Squash has been trying to bring those back. Does London have one?

Also, the trailing spouse. That rings very true. Either it is a new spouse who is not yet fully ready to abandon such practices or a second (or third) spouse, who is going to stick this out, thick or thin. You rarely see the long-term first spouse in the gallery.

The other book is V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. This came out in 1979, but I never read it all the years I was living and traveling near what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the novel apparently is set. Naipaul’s protagonist plays squash in the afternoons at the Hellenic Club in what is Kisangani. He wears canvas shoes. It seems quaintly colonial. It was his daily workout: “It was my rule,” Naipaul writes, “whatever the circumstances, however unwilling the spirit, never give up the day’s exercise.”

That is a good rule and sometimes hard to follow, no matter where you are.