In the third KYD No. 20 teaser, Simon Castles examines the absence of cricket in our national literature.
When you have a well-received cricket novel coming out of America, of all places, it makes you wonder why the summer game is so rarely a subject in our fiction.
There are, of course, Australian novels that feature the game. To name a few of the best, Steven Carroll’s The Gift of Speed, Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones and Malcolm Knox’s A Private Man. There are no doubt others. But the struggle to name many makes one thing clear off the bat: cricket plays a significantly smaller role in our literature than it does in our lives.
More than that, though, none of these novels could be said to be about cricket in the way that many American novels are about baseball. They don’t have the game at their very centre. To read Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, WP Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (made into the film Field of Dreams), or Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding – not to mention more commercial fare such as Stephen King’s Blockade Billy or John Grisham’s Calico Joe – is to feel the love or crazy obsession for baseball and its traditions on every page. These novels evoke summers past: the ramshackle ballpark, the fading bleachers, the outfielder shielding his eyes from the sun. They make you see the pitcher’s graceful wind-up, hear the crack of bat on ball, feel the runner’s slide into base amid a cloud of dust.
Why don’t Australian novelists write about cricket in anything like the same way? Lack of interest and passion for the game is perhaps one reason, while ignorance is also a likely deterrent. For the novelist who follows the old dictum ‘write what you know’, elite-level sport is not often top of the list. The portrait of the young artist often finds him or her in the library or sitting dreamily under a tree, rather than at the wicket wielding a Slazenger. How do you go about imagining a two-metre-tall Joel Garner hurling a piece of hard leather at you at 150 clicks an hour, when the last sporting challenge you had was school PE, just before you faked a headache and went and lay down in sick bay?
But more than lack of interest or insight on the writer’s part is perhaps something like antipathy. Not toward cricket itself, but rather what it represents – a sports-mad nation where arts and letters get short shrift and always have done. A land where the sportsman (and it is usually a man) is hero and the artist is a perennial outsider. The Australian novelist may feel, with some justification, that writing about cricket or footy is like colluding with the enemy.
Want to read the rest? Issue 20 will be available online 12th January! Be the first to read it by purchasing a print or online subscription to KYD.
Image credit: Nic Redhead