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Gorey Things
10 November 2017 | comments: 0 | Categories: | Tags:

The Book of Fame

4 starsLloyd Jones has immortalised himself in New Zealand literature through his outstanding novel "The Book of Fame".

It traces the story of the famous 1905 All Blacks, known as "The Originals", on their pioneer tour of Britain, France and the United States.

The story is written as a collective diary in concise prose that's almost poetic. The use of language is something I've never encountered before, but it works very well.

The narrator is never revealed as a single player. The personal pronoun never appears; instead it's a team voice that speaks.

The Book of FameThat's appropriate given the stunning success of this team. The players became celebrities throughout Britain. They were farewelled from New Zealand by a few dozen friends and relatives, arriving home to a heroes welcome.

They lost only one game on tour, in controversial circumstances to a Welsh team at Cardiff Arms Park.

Along the way they met the King, mixed with Lords and common people, and saw sights that few colonials had ever seen.

They were wined and dined in England and Wales, snubbed in Scotland and entertained in Paris between scoring 830 points while conceding just 39.

The descriptions of exotic places and rare experiences are beautifully written.

The 1905 All Blacks mostly came from humble backgrounds. They were farmers, farriers, meatworkers, miners, bank clerks and bootmakers: ordinary men thrust into extraordinary places.

Their rugby was revolutionary. They kept the ball in hand, running at the opposition instead of kicking it away. The English never adapted to match the new style; only the canny Welsh played the All Blacks at their own game.

Jones narrates the humility of the all-conquering New Zealanders. They were men who knew their talent on the field and their limitations off it.

For someone raised on Australian football this novel captures the essence of rugby and what it means to New Zealanders and Welshmen in particular. It is their tribal religion and does so much to shape their national identities.

Imagine the team arriving in Cardiff, where it was met close to midnight by 20,000 people at the railway station with "delerious hearts and famished stares".

I'll finish with this extract of memories that the players carried with them:

  • The quiet applause of the dazed Leicester players walking back to their goal line after conceding another try.
  • A professional wizard, a predicter of fortunes, a seer and three witches were driven out of town following the Irish defeat at Lansdown Road.
  • The 35,000 telegrams sent out by the Cardiff Post Office following our only defeat at Cardiff Arms (normal Saturday load: 800 messages).
  • Every colliery in the Forest of Green closing on the day we played Gloucester.

And witness the poetry:

We who had come to discover
found ourselves discovered
and, in the process, discovered
ourselves -

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