Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review of Christopher J. Yates "Black Chalk": When Does A Game Become More Than A Game?


My review of Christopher J. Yates "Black Chalk". The book was released September 19, 2013 and obviously didn't make much of an impact. Had you ever heard of it before stumbling across my blog? I probably wouldn't have heard of it unless I saw it at I'd like to thank and the publisher Vintage Digital for a free copy to read.

The running question is what mysterious incident happened during the playing of the game. A narrator is telling us about this incident, but for about the first 20% of the book we don't even know who the narrator is. This narrator is haunted by this mysterious incident, at first he doesn't give us details about it. Did someone die? If not, what happened in that incident that has such a finality to it? Why does the narrator have so much regret about the incident? What exactly happened and who is at fault? This incident literally haunts the entire book.

This book is the story of a game amongst friends that goes horribly wrong. But it's just not a game, is it?No it's a game with a large of money at stake and a game that becomes personal. It turns from a "game" to a GAME relatively quickly. What makes the game turn from a friendly competition into something much more serious? The novel is broken into two parts. First the action is set at Oxford University in 1990, where "six best friends" play a game in their first year at Oxford. The "game" is picked up 14 years later in New York City for the "final round". This brutal game is monitored over by a mysterious group of people, they call themselves the Game Soc. We know very little about them, other than they aren't to be trifled with.

The six friends are an intriguing mix of both genders, different nationalities and different economic status. Although the six truly do seem to be good friends, there are  things mixed in that gives the game an added edge. Four college age men and two attractive women makes for a toxic mix. Also the money involved doesn't help

The first of the six friends is Jolyon. He's an Englishman and a self-described "product of divorced Sussex schoolteachers". Badly damaged by the first part of the game, he spent 3 years as a hermit in his New York apartment waiting for the resumption of the game. His being a hermit started 11 years after the first part of the game ended. Jolyon eventually becomes a naturalized USA citizen and marries an American, although that union doesn't last. He knows the game will be resumed and he spends about 5 weeks getting ready for the sec on part. He trains by taking tentative steps into going out in public again. Jolyon needs reminders to execute even basic functions. His life had almost stopped after the first round of the game, which is when he originally stopped writing in his diary. We find out eventually that Jolyon is the narrator of the book and the diary he resumes writing in is the book.

Chad Mason, an American, befriended Jolyon. Although he and his fellow Americans arrived on campus a week before the British freshmen, he hadn't made friends with any of them. Jolyon liked Chad as soon as they met. Chad had initiated their friendship but Jolyon had to do the final approval of it. At 13 was the first kid to get a pimple. He earned the nickname Pizza Face for that, because of the nickname he didn't eat pizza until reaching Oxford. Farm boy on a scholarship and financial aid. He came under the influence of Jolyon, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad.

At the beginning of their first week of friendship they began talking about and developing the game that would so mark their lives.

The final four participants of the game is Emilia, who initially is sleeping with Jolyon during the first part of this game. She's the conscience of the group. Next is Jack Thomson, who is Thomson without a p. He's studying history at Oxford and likes to entertain others with his self mockery. The next person is Dee, she's an attractive women who has her very own sense of fashion. She's very much her own woman and also a poet. Her poetry plays a central role in the book. Then perhaps the most tragic figure of the group is Mark, the ultimate loser in the game.

During the Fresher's (freshmen) Fair Jolyon, Chad and Jack considered many different societies to see which they might want to join. Jack spent much of his time mocking these various societies. It was Chad who noticed the Game Soc first. The three main members didn't necessarily go out of their way to welcome people to their group. Jolyon nicknamed them Tallest, Middle and Shortest. Upon meeting Chad was the first to suggest the game to Game Soc as Jolyon helped to explain. They hadn't finalized the game when they introduced it to the Game Society. As the introduction was being made Jack added  ideas to the game, although he hadn't heard of it until Chad brought it up with the Game Soc.

That's just the barest telling of the many details of the novel. Jolyon serves as a very effective narrator, although we aren't sure if all of the words are his. The book follows how what started out as a simple game ends up ruining so many of these six people's lives. Very thoroughly it answers the question what becomes of a game, when it turns into a GAME?

I would definitely suggest that all read this book. This book is for those who like mind games, don't like the easy answer and have to work to understand the book. The book is set up as the ending could be very lame, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the end was. It was a very satisfying conclusion and helped for the whole book to be extremely readable. I give "Black Chalk" a solid B grade.


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