The Kilburn Social Club by Robert Hudson

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The Kilburn Social Club by Robert Hudson

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: A lengthy saga following the footballing fortunes of a successful but anachronistic team run on democratic lines. When junior doctor Aisling inherits the chairmanship instead of her football-mad sister Esther, Kilburn Social Club is no longer the predictable success story it was once.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
ISBN: 978-0224085847

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Maybe it's not obvious from the title, but this is a story about football. Kilburn Social Club is part of the mythical Rosslare business empire, headed by a family of benevolent, aristocratic autocrats, devoted to the welfare of their employees and servants. The saga follows the players of Kilburn Social Club through a decade of sporting, political and personal ups and downs.

When Lord Rosslare dies suddenly, Aisling, his elder daughter, inherits the dynasty, including chair of the football club. She's initially bored by the club's administration immersed as she is in the hospital world as a junior doctor. Younger sister Esther, her inferior in looks, personality and confidence, loves football and the club. Both Aisling and Esther narrate from their points of view. Inevitably, political in-fighting and sibling rivalry in love affairs have the sisters clashing at every opportunity. In the wings stands Strabis Kinsale, a successful competitor magnate waiting to take over the Rosslare business empire. How will he succeed?

The premiership club is imagined in utopian detail. In a long preamble, the football club's history is recounted from the birth of the Football League. At the start of the story, it has the highest international reputation. Although players are paid a modest, unbonused wage, aspiring footballers vie to join its testosterone-fuelled team. Players revel in the glamorous atmosphere. Among the players telling the story are two prime movers: Dave, club and England skipper; and Zondi, the gay lover of the great Achilles. Curiously, the ball also reports on some matches.

Behind the players stand backstage characters, especially the successful and mysterious Mr Brown. While Mr Brown is manager, there is remarkable cohesion within the team. Confidence in his methods melds them into an unbeatable squad. Once he dies, though, anarchy engulfs the club and the golden days of success fade away.

On the credit side, Robert Hudson has envisioned a consistent parallel universe, which is no mean feat for a new, young author, even if he does have a PhD in intellectual history. His multi-national cast of players forms a strong team. I wondered if he had sat in a Club dressing room or two in his time, as I enjoyed their reactions to the vicissitudes of elite sport. On and off the pitch, players approach the game from their own cultural backgrounds, like the appealing Zondi who reports transactions in terms of jungle mythology.

I disliked the dearth of sensory detail and multiple viewpoint omniscience of Robert Hudson's writing. It always seems to me that such writing lacks immediacy as if I'm in a cinema seat observing the characters in a film rather than sitting in the room connecting directly with them. I was particularly unconvinced by the two women, Aisling and Esther, whose stereotyped characters raised my feminist hackles rather than laughter. It's about as convincing as the froth whipped up by OK and Hello magazine, although yes, such magazines have a devoted following of readers.

I do find it difficult to guess who might finish this long, wannabe blockbuster, though. The detailed commentaries of football games may turn off older females, those traditional readers of sagas. The pre-Thatcher generation may find the cult of self at the heart of this novel unpalatable. Yet again, while the vocabulary and content may be suitable, this particular view of the football world seems overly long and cynical for teenage football fans.

Depending on your taste, this book is either a witty satire in the tradition of Orwell or Swift or an interesting (possibly tedious) commentary on the state of the game today. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea, I'm afraid.

The Bookbag would like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

For a real-life analysis of the football scene, we recommend trying Tom Bower's Broken Dreams, or the highly enjoyable The Boss: The Many Sides of Alex Ferguson by Michael Crick. There's many a teen football novel about: we especially loved Exposure by Mal Peet. You might also enjoy Awaydays by Kevin Sampson.

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