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The Grass Arena: An Autobiography Paperback – 19 Feb 1990


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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New edition edition (19 Feb 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057115171X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571151714
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 1.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 190,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A wonderful book' -- Ken loach

'Terrific' -- Harold Pinter

'The Grass Arena' is a masterpiece -- Ervine Welsh

'The grass arena is a one off .... one of the most compelling pieces of literature i have ever come accross' -- The Irish post

'Time and again one is appalled by the pleasure The grass Arena furnishes as literature, when it is so clearly not fiction. And this sense of the reader#s dilemma as a priviledged observer in a world of casual savagery that is palpably real is a troubling and thouroughly enriching one' -- John Kemp Literary review

The last thing John Healy needs is a tidy snippet of blurb from the likes of me which is a good thing because economy defeats me; I don't know how to be moderate or concise in praise of his startling autobiography `The Grass Arena'. So economy I'll leave to him, a master storyteller with an ear, an eye and a voice that should be the envy of many men with weightier reputations. There is no perceptible distance between the words, which seem to have chosen themselves and the experiences from which they blossomed like a garden of wild flowers. Armed to the teeth with his wit and self-knowledge he takes us to that other place, his grass arena, the one which we pass how many times in any given day, averting our eyes? The one into whose violent clutches we might descend more easily than we dare to contemplate. He is our jaunty, gleeful tour guide and messenger from hell. His fellow combatants, exuberant, murderous and sentimental, by turns touchingly loyal, vengeful and treacherous seem to have sprung from the same bloodlines as Falstaff, Pistol, Nell and their fellows. They pitch their tents in the same refuse-filled shadows as their forebears; a confederacy of the dispossessed. Healy's life, were it not for an astonishing turn of events, seems predestined to be a short one.
As in Knut Hamsun's mighty book `Hunger', we are utterly compelled both by the power of Healy's story and his great power in the telling of it, no matter how bleak the outlook, to stay by his side until the last word is writ. -- Daniel Day Lewis, August 2008

`A masterpiece'

-- Irvine Welsh --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Healy was born into an impoverished, Irish immigrant family, in the slums of Kentish Town, North London. Out of school by 14, pressed into the army and intermittently in prison, Healy became an alocholic early on in life. Despite these obstacles Healy achieved remarkable, indeed phenomenal expertise in both writing and Chess, as outlined in the autobiographical <I>The Grass Arena</I>. --This text refers to the Digital Download edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By "sambarfoot" on 2 April 2005
Format: Hardcover
I first learnt of this book when I read an interview with John in,I think it was the Guardian.Having had a personal experience of coping with a family members alcoholism I was very interested to read the story of someone who discovered a way to overcome it.To me it was both disturbing and optomistic,it led me to understand a little more about the personal battle being fought by the individual as well as the hopeless task of sustaining a day to day life when caught in the throes of addiction.I originally bought the book as I thought it may shed some kind of positive light on overcoming the abuse,I endeed up keeping the book to myself as what it disclosed to me was an unfinished story.I often wonder what happened to John after he had told his story,it explained many things about how we as individuals try to conquer our demons but it didnt offer a solution.I found this book to be both informative and emotive and would recommend it to anyone who feels they need to hear the truth about what life as a wino is like.John was fortunate in that he found an escape, however temporary.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mr. S. Ogrady on 12 April 2008
Format: Paperback
I don't read much but this book is gripping. I picked it up and ended up reading it for half an hour in the shop... and kinda had to buy it!

This is an autobiography of a boxer & drunk, who became a great chess player whilst in prison.

I'm not well read but I've never seen anyone describe life so lucidly on page. It's sooo much better than any novel i read. There's a lot of brutality in this book and it's not always a pleasant read. But the author has little self pitty and bounces back from the most dire situations.

I admit i haven't finished it. It's like a window into a world that you don't always want to look into. But gripping when your there.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Gabrielle O'grady on 19 April 2010
Format: Paperback
In some ways this book is a hard one to read, not because of any inadequacies in the written style of the book, which is forthwright and punchy, but because of it's honesty. John Healy hasn't held back and right from the beginning of the book, when we are exposed to his father's agressive parenting, we know that this is no 'life-through-rose-tinted-glasses' account.

The Grass Arena refers to John's life as a homeless junkie in the parks of London. This is where the pleasure of the book lies. He describes a world which seems to be happening in parallel to the 'real' one, but it is no less real for John or those that shared their existence with him. It is very difficult to understand how anyone can live this way and survive for any length of time. Thankfully, John did, eventually finding chess which brought him back to a more healthy existence and a future.

This book is already a classic. I would love to see it on the curriculum.

Gabrielle O'Grady
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By raimundhejduk on 14 Sep 2012
Format: Paperback
Just watched a programme on the author of The Grass Arena on the Irish channel RTE. Following his overnight success with The Grass Arena, it seems that Healy fell foul of the London literary establishment after a bit of a fracas with the then literary editor of Faber & Faber (who published the book) Robert McCrum. At one point, Healy, rather unwisely, threatened to chop McCrum's head off with an axe. The cause of Healy's disgruntlement was his concern over royalties for the book. An emotionally damaged man (given his years as a homeless alcoholic on the outer fringes of society) Healy lacked the necessary social skills and graces to put his case in a more sober and less bellicose manner. Failing to allow for the this, McCrum acted wimpishly and rather boorishly refused to have anything more to do with the hapless Healy. Thereafter, Healy's book went out of print and he was unable to find another publisher. In short, he was blacklisted. However, the good news is that Penguin Classics are to republish The Grass Arena. Healy's chess skills are as strong as ever. He recently played 15 opponents all at the same time and won 14 out of the 15 games.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Goods on 3 Nov 2010
Format: Paperback
The subject of a rather unkind review in the Guardian when it first came out, Healy's autobiography deserves its inclusion as a Penguin classic. A wonderful book, with real literary merit, Down and Out in London and Paris pales into insignificance in comparison as a document of the lives of the destitute and broken. At a time when you can't avoid being overwhelmed by the avalanche of autobiographical tales of woe and misery in the nation's bookshops, this is the real thing. Would be great to have a follow-up to see how John's life has fared since those days on the streets. Can't recommend it highly enough. Deserves to be read much more widely than it's been so far.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Gilgamesh on 6 Aug 2008
Format: Paperback
This memoir, written in the 1980s, but looking back on a life lived on the streets of London in the 1950s and 60s, is a minor masterpiece. Its spare style is the key to its power and you can feel the honesty behind every word Healy wrote looking back on his youth and young adulthood. Reading The Grass Arena, you'll get a completely different perspective on London life, one you've never really considered before. The book captures you with the story, yes, the observations, yes, but also with the variety of characters Healy introduces you to from his eventful life in 'the grass arena' and how he escaped it.
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