Published: 16th April 2012 (UK pbk) 1st May 2012 (US pbk)
Publisher: 4th Estate (UK) Back Bay Books (US)
Pages: 528 (UK) 584 (US)
Henry Skrimshander, newly arrived at college, shy and out of his depth, has a talent for baseball that borders on genius. But sometimes it seems that his only friend is big Mike Schwartz – who champions the talents of others, at the expense of his own. And Owen, Henry’s clever, charismatic, gay roommate. Then, one fateful day, Henry makes a mistake – misthrows a ball. And everything changes. (Synopsis via Goodreads).
If you dismissed this book after reading the word ‘baseball’, I strongly urge you to reconsider. The Art of Fielding is a quiet, understated novel that rests on its vivid characters rather than its plot. Halfway through, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what the story was ‘about’, only that I was thoroughly enjoying it. I’d curl up and let myself become a part of the characters’ – Henry, Schwartz, Pella, Owen, and Affenlight – world, their interwoven lives, and their individual hopes and dreams. I felt as if I’d read a book without even reaching the halfway point because it’s packed with detail, yet it moves quickly without being obvious. Subtle in its pacing while still keeping the reader turning the page. It also moves seamlessly between characters. I’d read one sentence from Henry’s point of view and then the next would be the school president, Affenlight, done in a sophisticated way so I never had to double check which character I was reading about.
I also have to acknowledge the wonderful writing. I am unashamed to admit that it turned my vocabulary up a notch! I finally made use of the dictionary feature on my Kindle. It made me appreciate what more of the English language there is to learn. I wish I could remember all the definitions, like ‘extemporaneously’ (‘spoken or done without preparation’) and ‘impecunious’ (‘having little or no money’).
The Art of Fielding is timeless. For most of the novel, it is not obvious when exactly it is taking place. It felt old-fashioned and comforting, but then there’d be a reference to iPods. But this is by no means a criticism. It makes us aware that human predicaments transgress time and that it’s always possible to relate to another person’s problem. When Henry makes a bad throw, the reader is unaware that this seemingly trivial event will have a vital impact on the rest of the characters’ lives. We see Henry change and develop throughout the story as he attempts to come to terms with, and figure out, what he wants in life. None of the characters are the same at the end of the book compared to when we first meet them.
This book was obtained as an eGalley from 4th Estate.