Thursday, 11 June 2009

"The Longshot" by Katie Kitamura

I was sent a review copy of this book by Simon & Schuster and have to say that I really enjoyed it.

The Longshot is a very impressive "novel" set against the unlikely background, for a woman novelist, of professional male fighters. In fact, I don't recall a single female character. I know very little about fighting, but this sounds like kick-boxing, which I always knew was big in Asia, but did not realise was also practised in America.

The crux of the book is the interplay between three different characters: the fighter, his coach and his opponent, though the latter is glimpsed only briefly and his feelings have to be guessed at. The writing and the dialogue are simplistic in style, with short sentences and short words. This feels right in this context as it is undoubtedly how the protagonists see the world. There is an obvious flavour of Hemingway, though whether deliberate or not I don't know.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that this is a debut novel, a fact which the sureness of touch, and the confidence to tackle such a difficult subject would seem to belie.

The reason that I have put "novel" in quotes above, is that I'm not sure this really qualifies as one. Like many books which are passed off as novels these days, it is really only an extended short story - a novella perhaps, but surely not a novel. I haven't counted, but there are probably less than 40,000 words. At least in this case the publishers did not resort to a huge font size to camouflage the fact, but it seems hard to understand why the publishers are asking the public to pay ten quid for this, when their recent (longer) The Song is You is significantly cheaper.

My only real reservation about the book itself, rather than how it has been packaged, is just how on earth Kitamura is going to follow it. Let us hope with a totally different sort of book that is just as well written, but in a style that gives her a chance to show what she can really do with the English language when not restricted by four or five word sentences. She is clearly someone who can write a stunning short story, but I feel she and her publishers need to decide whether she should stick with this format, or try writing a proper novel. According to E.M. Forster (who should know, since he excelled at both), they are very different disciplines.

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