The Champion – an unusual book

The Champion by Tim Binding.

I received this book as a sort of prize from The Dabbler website, and set to to read it in order to make a halfway intelligent effort at commenting. I think that overall, it’s an interesting, readable book with some memorable characters and events, but not as good as I had hoped.

It starts up as a sort of Rotters Club book, set in the eighties, schoolboys (and girls) together. Then it changes into more of an examination of the financial and social changes of the 80s and 90s. I think. The time sequence as the setting (Kent?) is pretty vague, with not much clarity or stage dressing as to when it is supposed to be. While I didn’t expect masses of references to tv programmes, royal events or even popular chocolate bars, this is a book which I think has the idea of commenting on a particular social setting in a particular era. Which it doesn’t really succeed in doing. In which case, why?

This novel takes a pretty vague view of women. While I know that I was damning of Lodge’s A Man of Parts for being a little condemning of Wells’ many conquests, in this novel the women do not really come alive, except through the eyes of a pretty unreliable narrator. Mothers, wives, girlfriends and just females generally are meant to be sympathetically drawn (I think), but are largely victims of what men do to them. There is not really a female character who stands up to the circumstances and men around them; the narrator holds many grudges and takes petty revenges, but the women are not really seen as even managing that much. Even when a woman chooses a man to be with, she rapidly becomes emotionally abused. Possibly that is what the author is trying to say;  that women could not choose with confidence and security and always stood in the shadow of their husbands, but I’m not confident that it was that thought through.

This is a novel that just misses, I feel. It is not a strong picture of a particular era, it is not a stunning condemnation of the get rich schemes of the 80s. But it is interesting, and I did want to read to the end. It is a flawed book, but I did finish it, and found it worthwhile. It is definitely worth a read.

Tomorrow night is the book group about which World Book night allowed me to saturate the place with, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. I’m still overwhelmed by the complexity, brilliant writing and historical reality of this novel. Does anyone else feel the same?