Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 12, 2011

Spinner, by Ron Elliott

For those who know me, the idea of me being enthralled by the progress of a test cricket match might seem bizarre, but that’s the effect this brilliant new book has had.   Spinner, a debut novel by WA scriptwriter and academic Ron Elliott, is about much more than cricket, but for the first time in my life I have felt the excitement of match play and have an inkling of the intricacy of the game.

It’s a measure of Elliott’s mastery that the written word succeeded where the real thing failed.  I was actually at the MCG when Garfield Sobers scored a century on the way to his record-breaking 254 runs in 1972, but I didn’t grasp the significance of what Don Bradman described as ‘probably the greatest exhibition of batting ever seen in Australia’.  In a generous gesture that I failed to appreciate, my mother-in-law had taken me to the match in an effort to encourage an interest in the national obsession. (She took me a Grand Final of Australian Rules Football that year as well, but that didn’t work either and I’ve always felt a bit guilty about the ticket being wasted on me).

Perhaps it’s because the voice in Spinner is so authentic that I was captivated by it.  Told in the simple, direct style of an uneducated country boy, it’s the story of David Donald, twelve years old and a gifted spin bowler already.  In Steven Carroll’s The Gift of Speed  we see a boy dreaming of escape from his mundane life through cricket, but in Spinner, the transformation of David’s life is a metaphor for our national legends.

It was a different world back then.  Orphaned by the Great War, David spends his childhood with his austere grandfather in the WA backblocks.   The Depression is looming and the men who came back from the War are finding that it’s not ‘a land fit for heroes’ at all.  There’s a drought and the man who’s brought David up alone is doing it tough.   However, in spare moments between David’s hard yakka on the farm and the drudgery of school, this man teaches the boy the mysteries of spin bowling.  And more than that –  without the benefit of TV broadcasts to illustrate technique –  he teaches the boy the psychology of the art.  He teaches David to spook batsmen into playing a wrong shot.

The (mostly) third person narrative is told from David’s perspective so it’s limited by his age and lack of experience.  He’s a perceptive boy (though a dolt at school) but he’s still a child.  So whereas the reader can ‘read between the lines’, the boy, for example, doesn’t understand the significance of the ominous visit from Mr Pringle, who owns ‘The Westralian and the bank’ (p41).  His grandfather is the silent type, rigid in his ideas and emotionally distant, so David is told not a word about his father who didn’t come back from the war, and nothing about his mother who drowned in the dam when David was three.  He learns to be quiet, to watch and to think, and to keep his thoughts to himself.

But it doesn’t take David long to work out that his Uncle Michael is a shyster.  He has a dubious limp from the war and a too-easy smile to disarm the people he cons.  He deflects suspicion with amusing banter and he has a flexible moral code that contrasts with the black-and-white strictures that rule David’s life with his grandfather.  But Uncle Michael has contacts in the world of Australian cricket and he can see that David’s precocious talent is a way for him to make a quid.  And as it happens, grandfather has a reason to let the boy go…

With the English team in ascendancy and the national mood in despair for more reasons than just losing the cricket, there’s an opportunity for a boy who has mastered the tricky art of spin-bowling to achieve a miracle.   There are some dramatic moments when gamblers of one sort or another aren’t keen for him to help the Aussies win.  Along the way, Elliott reveals the shadow of the Great War on David’s family and on the Australian psyche.

This is a great book.  I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t make it onto reading lists for Year 12 across the country.

Kim at Reading Matters liked it too.

PS: Good News Update re availability overseas 21.1.11

US and UK buyers can get hold of a copy from the IPG Group here.  (Thanks to Claire from Fremantle Press for this info.)

Author: Ron Elliott
Title: Spinner
Publisher: Fremantle Press 2010
ISBN: 9781921361937
Source: Review copy courtesy of Fremantle Press.


Responses

  1. As a fan of the elegant game I shall definitely have to get my hands on this one! Interesting to note that your attention was captured by the literary description but not by the real thing – why do you think that was the case? I’m very jealous that you saw Garry Sobers in action.

    • Yvann, I’ve never understood or had any interest in any sport, playing it or watching it. I like the arts, playing music and listening to it; and books, of course!

      • Books and music are magnificent, with that I will agree.

  2. Sounds like a very interesting read. I have added it to the TBR list!

  3. Thanks: I’d been wondering what this one was like.

    • It’s taking all my self-control not to reveal spoilers, especially in the latter part of the book.

  4. I have to read this and the present moment is probably the best time for a cricket mad Pom to explore the idea of an up and coming Australian spinner coming through. Five years a go it would have depressed me no end. I hope it’s a valuable in the UK. Off to find out now.

    • Hello Annie, and welcome to ANZ LitLovers! To get hold of a copy in the UK, try the link to the Book Depository and ask to be notified when it’s in stock. They don’t always carry stock of Australian titles, but they get them in on request. Alternatively, contact Fremantle Press and get them to send you a copy.
      Cheers
      Lisa

  5. I’m mid way through this now, Lisa, and really enjoying it. I like the simplicity of it. Quite refreshing after two very heavy novels (yet to be reviewed), which have made me despair of human nature!

    • I knew you’d like it! But watch that simplicity; it’s sneakier than it looks as you will find, but of course I didn’t want to ‘spill the beans’ in the blog.

  6. Lisa, you’re a braver woman than me. I would never start a book with cricket as a major theme- I hate it too much. I know I liked Jasper Jones more than you did, but I was surprised at enjoying the cricketing parts of that so much in it.

  7. Louise, trust me, you would love this book! Have a look at Kim’s review too, I’ve added her link to my review at the bottom.

  8. […] not very long ago that I reviewed Ron Elliott’s debut novel, Spinner, and here he is again in my Meet an Aussie Author series.  He looks quite serious in this photo […]


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