Punching Judy by David James

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Punching Judy by David James

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: What could have been a generic boxer life story is lifted from the routine by a different approach to character and a plot that's a lot better than I expected.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 316 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
ISBN: 978-1425120009

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London, the 1950s, and life on the streets is not brilliant. Judy, fresh out of a Borstal-type remand centre for juveniles, has all the grit, determination and muscle to become a female boxer, but is going to find that winning, inside or outside the ring, is not that easy. Elsewhere is the man known to all and sundry as Ape, the man running her training gym. He has a history with Judy that is far from over.

You might already be predicting the story arc of this book, but you'll probably be wrong. If this were to have the standard plot-line – Judy starts small, gets better, gets bigger, then has a downfall – I doubt if I would have bothered finishing it. There is a slight progression in the absurdity of the offers given Judy, but instead the book is a lot more concentrated on character, and certainly never gives any of those an easy ride, or a predictable storyline.

Similarly, Ape's life does not go in the expected route upwards, or downwards – apart from one crunch moment, concerning his other work as a bouncer in the slightly shady London nightlife industry, he generally just goes sideways, but in an interesting way.

There are a lot of other characters too (most of the chapters are titled after the more relevant one), and their meshing is the main selling point of the book. Without going over the top at all the author eases us into his world, where most people are forced to look out for number one in any way they can, most people cuss like a trooper, and if characters aren't bisexual there are other people to assume they are up for something carnal. At times you might wonder if the misogynism of the characters belongs to the author; I hope not.

This is not a book that goes out of its way in forcing historical research down our throats, or tries too hard to replicate the underworld of London. What we do get is a very interesting, superior look at characters struggling through the dark surface of their lives, an embittered older man and a punchy young tomboy both being forced to take knocks – both literal and metaphorical – on their road to somewhere.

To repeat – with a stale, seen-it-before story, this could have been risible. There are no clichés here I stumbled over. If there were slight flaws, I think the transitions between third and first person were not handled very well. But they are certainly smaller fumbles than you might expect from David James's more famous namesake, and again add to the character-based approach of this book.

I wasn't sure about the reviewing gods blessing me with this title, but I came away from it having been pleasantly surprised. It won't be for everyone, with its foul language, and mostly dark milieu, but I found it honest in both character and historical, sports setting, and can recommend it to those with a boxing interest, and others besides. It's decidedly better than the last boxing book those same gods sent me.

We must thank the author for sending the Bookbag a review copy.

Buy Punching Judy by David James at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Punching Judy by David James at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Punching Judy by David James at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Punching Judy by David James at Amazon.com.


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