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Flash Fiction Competition.
24 for 3 (Bloomsbury cover)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.

I wrote about CB Editions when I discovered them back in April. The second wave of CB Editions titles is due this October, and can be viewed on their website here. Boyle also blogs at Son of a Book.

24 for 3 (CB Editions cover)

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.

6 Comments on “24 for 3 by Jennie Walker”

  1. John Self Says:

    I’ve seen this in the shops Rob, but had no idea about the interesting story behind it. I am now intrigued enough to ‘check it out’, as we are contractually obliged to put it these days. Thanks! (I also read in a review of it in the paper at the weekend that Mick Jagger praised the book, which as the review pointed out, is not something one hears of many novels.)

    I might be right in thinking that CB Editions will be bringing out the first UK edition of Gert Hofmann’s Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl this autumn. I think Charles Boyle mentioned something similar on my blog.

    Oh and The Age of Cardboard and String? Sounds very similar to Ben Marcus’s eccentric story collection (or was an even more eccentric novel) The Age of Wire and String, which came out ten years or so ago.

  2. John Self Says:

    Having just clicked on the link in your sidebar, I see that CB Editions will indeed be publishing Hofmann’s book. I must undertake to read it immediately.

  3. Rob Says:

    Yes, it’s a strange story (although I suspect that Boyle must be getting heartily sick of being asked about it, and of jokes about the Orange prize). It also led to this charming headline. I’m looking forward to seeing what you make of it if you do “check it out”. I’m curious about the Hofmann as well. Shouldn’t be long now…

  4. William Rycroft Says:

    I enjoyed this too Rob and hope that my Dad will agree with you that it’s a perfect stocking filler. Brevity really is the soul of wit, and I was impressed by how much is crmmed into this short book. I read Sylvia Brownrigg’s ‘Morality Tale’ shortly afterwards which is another tale of infidelity, although without the cricket, and worth a look too I think.

  5. Rob Says:

    Thanks for the tip, William. I’m off now to read your review of the Brownrigg…

  6. Priscilla Atkinson Says:

    I bought this book because of the review in the Spectator and ever since reading it I have been trying to work out the basis of its charm. My book club is reading it in December and perhaps I will get some clues as to why it is so delightful.

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