I’ve unintentionally picked up a lot of debut novels this year, and they have all been fantastic which augers well for the publishing and bookselling industry. Here is Miriam Sved’s 2014 release ‘Game Day’: it’s especially one for AFL lovers, although as a disinterested but coerced watcher of the game, I enjoyed this novel as well might a true fan. I take it from the novel’s acknowledgment page that Sved had written a number of short pieces based around the game, and what followed is this extended collection of intertwining vignettes on a fictional AFL team and its VFL reserve. We start by meeting rookies Dooley and Mick, childhood friends from rural Victoria, who have been spotted by a talent scout and are about to embark in the big league. However, they have to survive the ‘Best and Fairest’ night first at their local clubhouse and the talent scout surveys the room with the jaundiced eye of one who has seen it all before: ‘They’re over near the main entrance, being greeted like rock stars. Both bought their parents, and Dooley’s got the two kid brothers in the mix … Parents gussied up to the nines, and the boys too, looking awkward as fuck and like they’d give anything to be back in shorts and trainers’.
Each vignette is written from the perspective of someone involved in the game: the PR guy trying to bury a player scandal; the groupie sizing up the fresh blood at the club bar; a little girl attending her first live game; the mother of the star rookie reflecting on his childhood. I really like this form of novel written from multiple perspectives. The style might not be to everyone’s taste, but I think it suited this theme and the regular appearance of central characters tied the collection together well.
The strongest pieces were ‘Public relations’, “Belonging’ and ‘Maggot’. In fact, ‘Maggot’ written from the perspective of an umpire, was an eye opener for me: I had never really given a great deal of thought to how an umpire feels about the die-hard fans, nor how umpires must erase any personal history of once loving a team in order to become ‘objective’. This fresh perspective (fresh for me at any rate) didn’t shy away from an ugly portrayal of the aggressive punters cheering on their team: ‘On game day the tattooed men are there long before the first siren. Martin can hear them: not the specifics of their spit-riddled shouting, but the muted roar from a general direction that lets him know the team’s hardcore cheer squad – his hate squad – are ready’.
Sved knows her football. The descriptions of training and play are well executed, brief in description without becoming tedious detail: ‘The run of play he has been watching has looped back on itself, the ball being fought over just metres from where he is sitting, until one of the rookies, Dooley, breaks from the pack and gallops it into the half-forward. He dodges around two defenders and executes an amazing kick to himself, barely inside the boundary, before booting it to their full-forward’. Sved also cleverly includes male and female perspectives evenly, and alternates between exploring the highs and lows of footy life to maintain interest for a broad range of readers. This is an enjoyable read and should please quite a diverse audience.
*This review is part of the Australian Womens Writers Challenge 2014