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Thursday 12 February 2015

The Longest Fight by Emily Bullock

The Longest Fight

I'm not sure I would have picked up a novel on boxing left to my own devices, so I'm really glad that Myriad Editions sent me a copy of The Longest Fight to review, otherwise I would have missed a real gem. And, of course, it’s not just about boxing. It’s about love, and family, and desire. Ultimately it is also about courage – a recurring theme – not only the physical courage of a boxer in the ring, but the emotional courage necessary to face everything life can throw at you.

One of the most notable things about this book is the quality of the writing. Reading Emily bullock's prose is like taking a master class in how to write. Every word is well considered and precisely chosen, and resonates perfectly. The boxing world, and the setting of 1950s London are both brought to vibrant life.

The beautiful language used is accentuated by its juxtaposition with the brutality of some of the subject matter. This book is about boxing and it's about pain and that is obvious from the first few pages. Pain is inflicted inside the boxing ring, but also outside it.  And it’s not just physical pain, but raw emotional pain.

We meet Jack Munday as his life ends in the most brutal way imaginable, and then go back in time to meet Jack, and the rest of the cast of characters. Young Pearl who, due to a physiological disorder, feels no physical pain. Frank, a promising young boxer. Georgie who catches Jack’s eye, but may not be enough to heal the pain of the past. From there we go even further back to Jack’s childhood where we find the roots of what he is to become in his own father.

The fact that we meet Jack at the end of his life, and the height of its tragedy, means that the tension of the narrative is all about how he got there. Along the way a number of mysteries are revealed, each another piece in the jigsaw of what made Jack what he is, and what he is to become.

The interesting technique of telling the present parts of the narrative in past tense, and the past sections in present tense adds to the tension and creates a good balance between the two strands as they both lead inexorably to the pre-ordained end.

This is a skilfully written and intelligent novel with multiple layers. For its vivid portrayal of another world, and its recounting of a story to break your heart, I highly recommend it.

Thanks very much to the publishers for a review copy of this book.

You can find out more here.

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