A Boy’s Guide to Track and Field – the curse of the second novel

One can only assume that Sabrina Broadbent’s debut novel, Descent, about which there is much praise on the back of this book’s jacket, was a hell of a lot better than A Boy’s Guide to Track and Field. I work in publishing and I know how hard it is to get a book published these days. It can’t just be good, it has to be marketable. A lot of people (including a hell of a lot of sales people) will have to read it and decide that there’s a place for it on the shelves in Waterstones – not just ‘on the shelves’ but on a particular shelf. Where does the book fit in? How can we sell it?

Where does this book fit in? Is there a shelf for books that have literally no plot, no action and no story arc? Bear in mind that I’m not a Dan Brown reader. I don’t need death on every page to make me feel I’ve got a story. If you read this blog you will know I’m happy meandering along sometimes with good characters, decent dialogue and an engaging style. But this book has none of these things.

I don’t usually give the entire plot of a book away in a post but I will do so here, if only to stop you wasting hours of your life reading this rubbish. So here goes…

Lemuel Gulliver is a maths teacher. Despite the fact that he is the most feeble man in the world, he seems to find teaching at a fairly rough comprehensive school more or less fine. He has an ex girlfriend called Dawn who is caught up in some extreme animal rights group. At one point she gets hold of some semtex and you expect the book to start actually moving but then nothing much seems to happen with that. She makes a couple of tearful phone calls to Lem but we never really find out what that’s all about either.

Lem also has a thing for Devora, his fortysomething colleague. Nevertheless, he drifts along without ever making an attempt to get together with her. At the very end of the book, one of Lem’s other colleagues, the uncouth Steve, is revealed to have made a play for Devora himself. This is pretty much the only thing that actually happens throughout the book and even this just sort of plops onto the page. Lem says very little about it, although we have to presume he is sort of upset.

Lem is sickeningly attached to his mother, who clearly wants her twenty-six year old son out of the house so she can spend quality time with her husband, Alan. Lem is also pretty hung-up on his ladies-man father, Todd. He wears Todd’s jacket a lot and is weirdly obsessed with it. All the way through the book Lem whines about wanting to go back to the safety of being a child. As the blurb says, “He can’t understand how the people around him manage the plot of a grown-up life – careers, mortgages, marriages, homes, friends.” Ok fine, maybe it’s a tricky business. But Lem doesn’t even try. He’s too apathetic to be the principal character in a book – there’s simply nothing to him. The author attempts to make him quirky by making him obsessed with the Tube and various facts about its history, but it just seems like Broadbent has a little book of London Underground facts, which she sprinkles liberally throughout the book because she knows it’s so incredibly dull.

I couldn’t believe it when I got to about ten pages away from the end of the book and still nothing had happened. Seven pages. Five pages. Last page. Lem scrolls down the Ds in his phone, Devora, Dawn, Dad. He picks up the phone and says ‘Hi Dad’. Well there you go. Stop press, the feeble man who can’t grow up at the beginning of the book hasn’t grown up by the end of the book. Nor has anything happened to him along the way. There you go. I’ve saved you the best part of a tenner.

I wish I’d read Descent instead really, because it has to have been good enough to get this dreary tome published, but I won’t be bothering now. They say that everyone has one novel in them and I’d say that’s certainly true of Sabrina Broadbent. Sorry Sabrina.

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1 Comment

Filed under fiction

One response to “A Boy’s Guide to Track and Field – the curse of the second novel

  1. Really good text, I appreciate it:)

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