Reviewer: Sue Reynolds
I have to confess that I don’t read as much fiction for pleasure as I would like these days. When I’m reading, it’s very often a student manuscript or background material for my thesis.
But I recently went by train with James to Quebec City for a few days. Knowing we would have a luxurious eight hours on the train each way, I packed several books just for interest and for fun.
I had picked up a book called “The Queen’s Gambit” by Walter Tevis at the Highway Book Shop in Cobalt over the summer. If you don’t know this bookshop, it’s AMAZING. They have about 250,000 titles second hand. In chatting with the owner, she said that www.abebooks.com has saved their business as well as that of thousands of other second hand bookstores. (Whenever I buy books second hand, I always sort by country and order from Canadian businesses. Consequently, I’d done a lot of business with The Highway Bookshop without ever having met them before.)
Anyway, this is not a new book – it was published in 1993.
Walter Tevis is also the author of The Hustler, The Color of Money, and The Man Who Fell To Earth, all of which have been made into movies.
The blurbs on the back jacket promised a page-turner – and they weren’t wrong!
Beth Harmon begins the book by becoming an orphan in an orphanage. But the inciting incident is when she discovers chess, playing against the janitor in the basement whenever she gets a chance. Beth has a gift -and she loves what her mind does when she’s got the chessboard before her.
I think one of the things that makes the book such a compulsive read is that the character is challenged on many fronts.
Intrapersonally – she has to deal with an addictive personality – she is drawn to tranquilizers and alcohol from her early exposure in the orphanage, plus she has a profound lack of self-esteem. In the book Beth faces many enemies (and friends) but she is her own worst antagonist.
Interpersonally – she has a number of challenges with colleagues, adoptive parents, supposed and real friends, and other chess players.
Socially – she’s a woman playing a man’s game and there are a lot of issues around gender and the game she is passionate about.
The final crisis in the book draws together all these conflicts in one mass blowout.
You don’t have to understand chess to love this book – but it will add a little to the experience of reading it. But like any great read, the real issue is the human drama, the story. That’s what makes this so rivetting.
Anyway, as I started out by saying – this book was my most compulsive read in a long time. It accounted for at least 3 hours between Quebec City and Toronto. Good thing it was a dull day so I didn’t mind missing the scenery!