Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Faltrain's graceful but the football...?

Another book for the girls this week. Actually, technically, its books. Australian author, Cath Crowley’s Gracie Faltrain series. It’s popular YA fiction, it’s a trilogy, its about football and its for girls which makes it almost unique. In having all this, it should be applauded. Should it though? Is it deserving of a place on the football fiction shelf?

In contrast to last week’s review I started reading book 1, The Life and Times…, expecting it to be spectacular. Gracie is a winner. But from thesimplestgame’s perspective it’s far from spectacular. We meet GF in Year 8 (aged 13, I think). She’s been playing in the football team for three years and she’s having trouble. Her best friend moves away, she fancies the unattainable smiling hunk and doesn’t see the quiet achiever beside her. He’s having his own problems right enough. Then school bitch gives her a hard time, things on the park get positively monstrous (not just because she won’t play nice with the other kids) and her Mum and Dad look like they’re in trouble too. All ingredient boxes ticked then for a mill run teen angst story.

Where Gracie scores is for readers not necessarily interested in football. They will read it, swallow it whole, I’d imagine. It’s a genuinely earnest and engaging book. It's good and the issues - real issues affecting girls (well as a boy what I would imagine the real issues girls face) are dealt with, eh… realistically? Better than that, in doing her thing Gracie has the potential to turn a whole new audience on to football. And the people at thesimplestgame are all for that.
Unfortunately discerning football fans will have put it down after the first 20 pages. I almost did.

Good characters with emotional depth kept me there. They are Crowley’s strong suit. The story, told from a number of characters points of view, has great form and reads well too. But the football is rotten. Almost criminal. Like pish. Poorly phrased, it lacks articulation, resonance and any semblance of the real thing.

I’ve chosen to focus on the first Gracie, but I’ve started the second, ...takes control, and if anything there seems to be even less football in it. The writing is improved. It seems everything but the football is getting better. The fact that it’s well written makes the football look even worse. We don’t kick goals, we score them. Gracie can’t make goals either.

Now, I read recently that Cath openly notes she's only ever played football once. I’ve also read that she was asked by her editors to put some football in her book about a girl playing football. So it’s no surprise that it lacks in the football stakes. Not exactly a promising sign.

Crowley’s work does, however, raise some interesting questions about grammar and use of language in writing football. To make it sound authentic and /or familiar to football fans it has to be written to populist conventions. The vernacular and the colloquialisms are as important as the football itself. If evidence is needed, look at the sports pages in any newspaper.

Having it grammatically correct isn’t important. The right thing to say is Manchester United is playing Arsenal, but to football fans the world over it’s not right. Man U are playing Arsenal. Football fiction should be written the way it’s reported in the papers except with narrative, plot, characters and depth. This is what Crowley has missed. It’s not enough to stand at the sidelines and learn some patter. This criticism could be put on the doorstep of the editors who told her to add the football. Ten minutes with any football pundit, not necessarily SBS’s Craig Foster, would’ve straightened them out and made a huge improvement to the book.

But even where the football isn’t the best, Gracie Faltrain raises some interesting questions about how football fiction is written and who’s writing it, so it gets a berth on the shelf. But it’s only rolled over the line, quite a come down from the postage stamp free kick I expected.

Cath Crowley's own site has all the books.
Or you could try Pan MacMillan.

No comments: