Claire Sweeting reviews
Half of the Human Race
by Anthony Quinn
Jonathan Cape, hb, 349pp, £12.99
Throwing a suffragette and a county cricketer together produces a potent mixture which paints an enlightening portrait of pre-WW1 society
THE SUFFRAGETTE movement and pre-war county cricket might seem an odd couple for a novel but Anthony Quinn marries them perfectly in a nostalgic and compelling tale whose themes of love and friendship on and off the pitch will appeal to lovers of romance and cricket alike.
It is 1911 and Will Maitland is the rising star of his unnamed county. He has had a relatively smooth passage through life and is now lucky enough to be playing during the Golden Age and at the same club as his hero, Andrew Tamberlain (known as ‘The Great Tam’), a batting legend now in the twilight of his career.
Meanwhile 21-year-old Connie Callaway’s life is not turning out the way she had
hoped. Her father’s financial ruin dashes her ambitions to train in medicine, as the family money goes towards educating her brother. Feeling limited and frustrated, she is increasingly drawn to the women’s suffrage movement.
Connie and Will cross paths when she watches his club play – a cricket fanatic, she
is thrilled to meet the players. Will is intrigued by her feistiness but shocked when she
offers him advice on his performance: “You went too early into the stroke and were caught on the crease. But that may be to do with technique.”
When next they meet, Connie is more involved with the suffragettes and on the run from police. Will’s quick thinking prevents her from getting caught and he begins to fall for her. He still considers Connie too outspoken yet he, too, has a rebellious streak; when Will is made captain of his county it is with the caveat that he sack the increasingly erratic Tam. He rails against the committee, refusing to let Tam go, and so loses the captaincy.
But Tam’s game is in decline and his life begins to echo that of the equally tragic Albert Trott, with whom Tam shares the feat of hitting the ball over the Lord’s pavilion. One of the saddest lines is Tam’s: “Sometimes I fear I have devoted myself to cricket at the expense of making a life.”
War breaks out and Will is sent to fight in France, returning irrevocably changed and struggling to face the younger, more optimistic players at the club. Connie, also affected by war, is now 30 and at last has the vote she fought so hard for, but not the career. As the characters re-evaluate their passions and beliefs, they are once again drawn together.
The novel’s major theme is the struggle against authority, whether it is women fighting for the vote or cricketers battling administrators, bad form and quick bowlers. A novel centred on cricket is rare and difficult to sustain but this manages to be much more than a sporting yarn. As well as being a thought-provoking love story, Half of the Human Race conjures an evocative picture of cricket and society during a fascinating period – and the prejudices that surrounded both.
Claire Sweeting is production editor on Easy Living magazine and is married to a