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The perfect bat

That rarity, a cricket novel
December 2022, no. 449

Willowman by Inga Simpson

Hachette, $32.99 pb, 403 pp

The perfect bat

That rarity, a cricket novel
December 2022, no. 449

In American culture, the baseball novel is virtually a genre unto itself, baseball offering a metaphor through which the American dream – the rise and fall and rise again of unlikely heroes – might be interrogated. The prologue of Don DeLillo’s Underworld (1997) offers a stunning example: within all the noise and spectacle of a baseball final an entire nation, as it teeters on the edge of the atomic age, is apprehended.

Why there are so few novels deploying cricket as their defining motif is a question that warrants its own thesis. Pressed to name a ‘cricket novel’ many readers might nominate Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland (2008). Yet, while Netherland concerns itself (in part) with efforts to found the New York Cricket Club, cricket operates for O’Neill predominantly as a baseball trope, a means of exploring the aspirations of immigrant Americans in the wake of 9/11.

In the Australian context there is Steven Carroll’s The Gift of Speed (2004) – about a young boy in thrall to the West Indies cricket team but few other novels spring to mind. Beach and backyard cricket commonly function as expressions of the Australian summer, but to understand anything of the mythology of Australian cricket – what it represents beyond its statistics and scorecards – it has been generally necessary to look to sports journalists, such as Greg Baum and Gideon Haigh.

Inga Simpson steps into this apparent void with Willowman. While a distinct change of pace from the dystopian notes of her most recent novel, The Last Woman in the World (2021), Willowman has its wellspring in the same contemplation of nature – its beauty and sanctity – that characterises so much of Simpson’s writing. The best cricket, the novel stresses, acquires the condition of music, ‘humanity, spirit and nature [working] as one’.

Diane Stubbings reviews 'Willowman' by Inga Simpson


by Inga Simpson

Hachette, $32.99 pb, 403 pp

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Comment (1)

  • I listened to the audiobook version of 'Willowman', much like listening to the cricket on my car radio during my younger years. I loved the book and the story. Maybe I am being overly generous because a cricket novel is so rare, but it is not literary fiction, it is just in my humble opinion some great storytelling about a game I love.
    I particularly enjoyed the way the creation of bat and music was intertwined. The predictable rise of Todd and then his sister Olivia to the world stage of cricket was perhaps a bit hokey, but I am not sure what other way the plot could have gone without the story turning into a miserable polemic on modern society. There is enough suburban angst out there already.
    Ms Stubbings seems a tad harsh and maybe 'Willowman' is not a great literary effort, but it does fill a void we cricket lovers needed filling, and I will recommend it to anyone who asks.
    Posted by David Bermingham
    11 December 2022

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