Fold by Tom Campbell

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Fold by Tom Campbell

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A year in the life of a group of poker friends. Good fun is to be found when one gets a dislike for, and inferiority complex regarding, the most successful, in this slightly blokish comedy drama.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: June 2011
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408807606

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Five men in Reading circulate their monthly poker evenings around their respective houses. None of them like all the others, none of them seem to completely like the game, but they're more-or-less happy with the habit. It's the way the five different personalities approach the evenings that we are concerned with, and enjoy principally, especially when the poorest player, Nick, decides to clash with his polar opposite, Doug. And what might happen if a non-playing character were to enter things, and make them even feistier?

With a chapter each month you could almost describe each section of the book as a hand that is part of a bigger whole. And as in a poker game, the first few hands are perhaps more sedate, exploratory and low-key. They do help us to very fine thumbnails of strongly defined characters, from the reluctant teacher Nick, past Alan (trying to get his girlfriend pregnant, in computers and no great shakes with cards), past the living computer that is Vijay (underused here), through the powerful Simon to the forcibly successful, fell-on-his-feet-in-all-regards Doug.

These pages do also to my mind flag this book up as a first novel, where by way of characterisation we get too much of every sociopolitical observation our author has stored up, whether about the 90s financial greed, about the nature of teaching, about class and life in Reading, and more. This isn't exactly unforgivable, though, and does help differentiate the guys in nice ways, while also allowing for an interesting injection of pace, plot and venom as Nick makes his vital decisions. More is quite quickly put up as stake.

The poker elements themselves are very accessible to a non-player, and seem successfully to be key to character, and as plot when we see various hands from one point of view. Not only that but the book is so warm it makes such evenings quite appealing, however bizarre the events and motivations they may hide.

You find in the end a Tony Parsonsesque bittersweetness, with an authoritative look at these fortysomethings. If less of it had seemed like bits of a much earlier millennial draft, it might have gone down better, but this is still a solid debut, and I would happily see Campbell's next book on the shelves. If you'll allow me to swap games for a moment - for these twists, I'd stick.

You can easily file this alongside the oeuvre of Nick Hornby.

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