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The Tournament: A Novel of the 20th Century Hardcover – September 10, 2003

4 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clarke's chatty latest novel boasts an outrageous premise: the greatest minds of the 20th century-128 of them to be exact-have gathered in Paris for a two-week tennis tournament. Hence there's "Jerry" Salinger, "SuperTom" (T.S.) Eliot, "Plum" (P.G.) Wodehouse and other luminaries (Darwin, Magritte, Earhart, Wittgenstein, Rachmaninov, Barthes, etc.) trading backhands and parrying wits. One-liners abound, about "Doc" Freud's theories regarding seeing ones' parents "in the act of congress" and "Ernie" Hemingway's constant search for the sun. Clarke's apparent aim-beneath the yuks-is to offer an entertaining cultural education. But with a new game beginning every few paragraphs, readers are introduced to a dizzying array of characters who never transcend caricature. Dali plays imaginary tennis, Auden expounds in verse and Munch sits "throughout the press call with his hands up to his face, his mouth open and a look of blind panic in his eyes." A few short interludes allow relief from the tennis-game-recap narrative, most notably the communist conspiracy surrounding the disappearance of Rosa Luxemburg and a number of other individuals from the tournament, but the novel quickly returns to tennis. The author of The Complete Dagg, A Dagg at My Table and others writes an intermittently amusing tale, but readers may feel this was a great idea best realized in a shorter, more comic form.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Imagine, if you will, 128 of recent history's greatest writers, thinkers, scientists, musicians, actors, etc., participating in a two-week tennis tournament. Sarah Bernhardt versus Coco Chanel; Aldous Huxley versus Paul Robeson; Vladimir Nabokov versus Henry Miller--matchups that seem wildly inappropriate and delightfully perverse. Norman Mailer is covering the tournament for Tennis magazine; the tournament referee is Charles Darwin. It's a wacky idea, and although it's mostly played for laughs, the author has somehow managed to make this preposterous premise pay off. The novel, which is structured like a day-by-day report on the progress of the tournament, is completely original, a crash course in the history of twentieth-century culture. The dialogue is cheerfully nutty, as most of the characters speak lines that parody themselves (Gertrude Stein: "A win is a win is a win"). This is one of those novels that shouldn't work and yet somehow it does, leaving us shaking with laughter and possessing a vivid sense of the competition between ideas and points of view that shapes our culture. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; 1 edition (September 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401300928
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401300920
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,607,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Clarke, an Australian-New Zealand author, poet and screenwriter, has produced an entire novel of original and utterly compelling one-liners covering a truly impressive range of 20th century philosophers, scientists, poets, dancers, painters and so forth, as they compete in the intellectual tennis match of the 20th century: Salvador Dali is cautioned for hanging his watch over the net, Einstein's serves only appear to exceed the speed of light and James Joyce's on-court verse is a wonder to behold (here, in his match against an increasingly peeved T S Eliot):

"'Tell me a tale of Jim and Tom' hummed Joyce to himself, 'all of the river is flowing Jim, the river is flowing over him, the rivering under the floater Tom, the blow to just under the nose is gone, and into the afterglow is one, and go with afterburners on, and go with the flow from here to there, and go with knowing your man Flaubert, and everythings fine and Dante there, and then as you hit the final straight, you hammer it down the line and wait, and look at the time and consummate.'"

If you have even a superficial grasp of half the participants, it's endlessly entertaining and one can only marvel at Clarke's wit and insight.
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