When Charles Boyle first wrote this novella, a charming story of infidelity and cricket, told with the kind of sparkling prose that reminds us just how much fun reading can be, he so despaired of getting it published that he formed his own publishing house, CB Editions, in order to get it into print. Not wanting to seem megalomaniacal (after all, the publishing house is already named after him), he chose a pseudonym for the novel… and has been explaining Jennie Walker to journalists ever since.
Soon after the original publication, Bloomsbury bought the rights, and have now released their own edition.
24 for 3 is a remarkable, quick novel about infidelity and the way people fit together, told against the backdrop of a Test match.
The novel opens on the first day of the match, with its unnamed narrator lying in her lover’s bed, idly wondering aloud about the rules of cricket. As the story progresses, and her life begins to change, she becomes more absorbed in the game, drawing parallels between the peculiarities of cricket and her personal situation and environment.
Charles Boyle and CB Editions
Charles Boyle founded small press CB Editions in 2007, when a single delivery of post brought both a rejection letter for his novel and a small cheque from the estate of a deceased uncle. The first four books were published later that year. Two were written by Boyle under different pseudonyms; as Jack Robinson he wrote Days and Nights in W12, and as Jennie Walker he wrote 24 for 3.
Cricket becomes the lens through which she views and describes her world. Each of the characters is seen at least partly in terms of their different relationships with the game, and each thinks or talks about it in a different way. The lover prefers to leave the rules unexplained, and so the game almost magic, while the husband draws elaborate maps of fielding positions. The teenage stepson, who’s missing at the beginning of the story, hasn’t been much interested in cricket since he was a boy, and so on.
But this isn’t a novel only for cricket fans (although it might make a better Christmas gift than one of those sporting trivia books). 24 for 3 is an enormous pleasure to read; the prose moves along, the ideas flow, the words are well-chosen and dropped into place with a deceptively natural feel. Boyle / Walker makes it look easy to write this well, but we all know it isn’t.
The polished prose (but polished so that it does its job perfectly, rather than edited into oblivion, as was the case with The Boat) should come as no real surprise; Charles Boyle is an editor himself, and a poet (you can get his Age of Cardboard and String from Faber). So, for all its strange beginnings as a self-published book, 24 for 3 is a story told by a professional, with a poet’s eye for language and an editor’s eye for storytelling. And at 138 pages (the Bloomsbury edition is slightly expanded from the CB Editions version), it’s strong proof that the novella is anything but dead.