The Queen’s Gambit — Declined, Thank You


So…  The Queens Gambit by Walter Tevis… the man who wrote The Hustler…  I began reading it on the advice of author Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient)…  but I found I could not share Mister Ondaatje’s enthusiasm for the book… so I declined farther reading about half-way through.

I love the game of chess, and I’ve seen a few good movies in which chess figures prominently, but I’ve never yet read a good novel about the game.   The man character of Tevis’s book is Elizabeth “Beth” Harmon, orphaned girl-child and, turns out, chess prodigy.  Because the story is told basically from her point of view (limited third person), the language we read and thoughts we overhear are a little simple at the beginning of the book– or at least that’s what I had assumed.  Truth is, even as the book progresses and Beth grows older, neither the language nor the inner mental landscape mature much.  This kiddie-talk style was off-putting to me.

Also, I thought Tevis sometimes went on for too long about small events, providing a wealth of half-beat -by- half-beat detail that crossed the line from explication to boring.  For instance, it took him several ho-hum pages to describe the theft of a bottle from a store-room.  It wasn’t as bad as Steinback taking a whole chapter to describe a turtle crossing the road, but it was long and tedious enough.

Furthermore, even as a chess player myself, I was not as excited as I felt I should have been about the games spotlighted in the story.  Lastly, I found the main character –fixated in a yawning sort of way on the details of the game– about as interesting as a cup of warm milk.  None of the characters really grabbed me.

So… sorry Mister Ondaatje, but I find we disagree yet again on literary merit.  Actually, this the second time I’ve picked on Mike [see this previous post].  But he doesn’t strike me as the sort to hold grudges.


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