Book Review: The Bones of a Season ⋆ An Old International

Book Review: The Bones of a Season

Another book review, this time of a novel that does not fit the label crime fiction but has nevertheless a gripping story to tell. This post is about the eBook version of Paul Breen’s latest novel The Bones of a Season. Though football is at the centre of the book, it is merely a background scenery. We can sense Brexit developing.

Football and Fiction; Football as Fiction

The market for football novels has grown just as everything about football has grown in recent years. It is nonetheless difficult to integrate football into a novel and many written offerings were better left unwritten. Ever since the game has become popular in the 1880s there have been different levels of writing. Literary writing, though is a different matter altogether even though the game provides tension that is easily transferable or best fitted into a crime novel. Football is thus a splendid background and offers a parallel for the plot of the story. This is what happens in ‘The Bones of a Season’.

Crossroads

We get to know Fergus Sharkey, a migrant Irishman who has made London his new home. He has come to a crossroad in his life. It is as simple as it is difficult: getting a tattoo of his new football club, Charlton Athletic to underline his love for the club. This love for a football club though terminally undermines his relationship to Katy, the love of his life. She feels the romance has gone and moves to Ramsgate on the coast. There she finds a new lover, Wagner who works in a café. Fergus meanwhile tries to get on with the loss and figure out a future without Katy. This is the moment when he meets Dyane, the tattoo artist that has inked his arm. Perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps desperation he asks the lady from the tattoo parlour out for drinks. This move sets in motion a whole new life for Fergus. First off, Dyane has a child, Poppy and therefore it is important for her that there is stability in her life. This is where Fergus struggles to come to make a decision. Should he plunge into his new found life or keep up hopes that Katy might return? Dyane further comes along with a problem: a young musician has been killed in daylight and she senses something sinister about it. Fergus is hooked and finds himself in a dubious bar on the Isle of Dogs where it turns out that Dyane’s suspicions were right. The young musician had discovered a ring of traffickers and he was going to make it public. It is Katy’s new lover Wagner who is involved in this as it gets clearer in the concluding chapters of the book.

The Isle of Dogs is also the place where Lance, Fergus’s best friend has a story to tell. Also of Irish origin, though from the 19th. century his family used to run a greyhound track on the Isle in the 1920s. In this section we learn a lot about London’s past, the place of the first Chinatown, the emergence of sports, during the 1880s. The family business of Lance was eventually destroyed by Asian gangs which explains the reservation of Lance towards these people. ‘It’s just too personal’ as he said over a beer with Fergus. Moreover, Lance has lost part of his leg in Afghanistan, adding more fuel to his suspicious mindset.

The book concludes in Ramsgate, in Katy’s house precisely where she has re-located to free her thoughts of Fergus and focus to finish her book. She has found out about Wagner and his involvement in the trafficking. As a result she is in trouble that manifests itself to Fergus in an email that is strewn with mistakes. This spurs Fergus’ instincts because Katy is a writer and errors are just not on for her. It further offers a chance to see her again. Little did he know that he would drive down to Ramsgate and experience a weekend that he will never forget.

Anti-Climax

The climax of the football season in the Championship is the play-off final. In 2013 it was up to Watford and Crystal Palace, the arch rivals of Charlton, to play out a spot in the Premier League. Football provides the backdrop of the main plot but also serves as a parallel to Fergus’s life. Handcuffed to the bed in Katy’s house at the coast, Katy and Fergus follow the final on the radio. The climax of the match was Kevin Philipps’ penalty in extra time. Only for Fergus and Katy it wasn’t. Never has he been closer to his former lover than at this moment, though he wasn’t able to reach her and comfort her in this distressing situation, while listening to Palace winning a spot in the Premier League. It is a strong scene and a fitting conclusion to their relationship. Palace win and have the thus the bragging rights in South London. After this episode it is clear that both, Katy and Fergus will part ways; while Katy simply disappears, Fergus returns to London to his new life and lover.

While Bones of a Season may not be a straightforward crime novel, the story contains elements of a hardboiled variant of this literary genre. We have the figure of Fergus, who solves the mystery of the trafficking ring by simply stumbling into it and following his instincts but also the involuntary help of his former lover Katy. It is exactly this which makes the novel so interesting. It is at the same time not necessarily only a crime novel but a story about the UK and London in 2013. The 2011 riots are still a fresh memory, the Brexit/Bremain debate is not far off but it is in a nascent stage, ready to become a major issue in the following years. It becomes palpable when a young soldier is killed in broad daylight outside his barracks in Woolwich. The so-called refugee crisis of 2015 is very much present already: Calais and the camp called The Jungle are repeatedly mentioned. It is further Wagner’s source of income. In fact, one could argue that the crisis of 2015 was very much present and has had its fore-warnings already in 2013, making any ensuing talk of a ‘refugee crisis’ sound shallow. The Britain described in the book is very much a Britain finding itself approaching or standing at a crossroad. Either way the destination is unclear.

Though the language used by the characters is sometimes coming across as rather simple, it is one of the strong points of this book as it provides authenticity to the story. No one wants to read dialogues by football fans or ordinary people in finely chosen language that would not offend anyone. That would not be life.

The book takes its time to get into the matter; carefully sketches the characters, mainly Fergus Sharkey, an Irishman in London who makes this city his new home. This very much resembles the author’s own experience. It offers an insight into British society at an important point in recent history with the eyes of someone who belongs to society yet is himself an outsider and therefore more sympathetic towards migration, one of the main topics of the ebook.

Paul Breen, The Bones of a Season (London: Open Books, 2016), eBook $7.99. The book is available via the online shop of Open Books or here.

Paul Breen is native Irishman living in Greenwich, the home of time, with his wife and a feline mistress called Gobbolino. He is also an academic teacher at Westminster University.

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