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.
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 PittCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved