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Books: The Queen's Gambit
Wednesday, 2005 January 5 - 12:35 am
Who knew chess could be so exciting?

(First, thanks to Javi for recommending this book.)

The 1983 novel The Queen's Gambit, by Walter Tevis, is a story about the life of a chess prodigy named Beth Harmon. It chronicles her life from when she was an eight-year-old orphan through her career as a professional chess player.

For those of you who've seen the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer", you may find some familiar themes: the pressure of fitting as a genius among ordinary folks, and the struggle to succeed when expectations are high. Some of you out there may relate personally to these themes.

Tevis demonstrates a good deal of storytelling skill; his narrative is engrossing and suspenseful. He spools out a chess game with as much excitement as any sporting event, taking us through each punch and counterpunch with all the emotions they entail. And, he gives us a truly heart-wrenching depiction of our protagonist Beth.

I did find some aspects of the story to be under-developed, though. Beth's maturation into adulthood is not explored in great depth; perhaps Tevis is limited in the fact that he's not a woman. I also found that there were a number of loose ends left untied at the book's finish.

Nonetheless, this book was interesting enough for me to read in one sitting; in that respect, it was similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (as Javi suggested it would be).

Rating: 4 / 5
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Posted by Ken in: booksreviews


Comment #1 from Javi (Guest)
2005 Jan 6 - 12:57 am : #
yay! i'm glad you liked it.

i can totally see why you feel the way you do regarding beth's maturation as well. i kinda chalked a lot of those gaps up to a beth's (and consequently, the novel's) singleminded obsession with the game to the exception of pretty much everything else.

i'm glad you agree about tevis's portrayal of the chess scenes. it is some of the most thrilling descriptive writing i have ever read - considering that i don't know anything about chess i consider it a big accomplishment that i was as on the edge of my seat during the chess scenes as i have been during any movie.

tevis also wrote "the hustler" and the "color of money" - i wonder if he achieved the same intensity with pool that he did for chess. i might hunt those down and read them when i get the chance.

by the way, tevis also wrote "the man who fell to earth" and the novel is a billion times better than the movie (ironically, it is also about an isolated prodigy making his way through an unfamiliar world).

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