on 6 October 2005
I read Sandy Balfour's previous memoir, Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) which is about 'love, exile and crosswords' and I loved it. But when I read he had done a second one, this time about 'father, sons and contract bridge', I wondered if he would pull it off. The answer is an unequivocal yes. Vulnerable in Hearts is much better written - you can feel Balfour's confidence in his own ability - and the story of his relationships with his father and (to a lesser extent) his son is much more complex and layered. And - although I am not a bridge player - the story of the game worked well for me. I don't have any real criticisms of the book. It flows well from the personal to the game and back again. The passages in which Balfour explores his relationship with his father are particularly moving and his use of bridge as an extended metaphor is convincing and gentle. A lovely book.
on 6 October 2005
This is an absolute gem of a memoir. I had little interest in Bridge before reading this book, little more than I once had in cryptic crosswords, the subject of Sandy Balfour's previous book (Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)). But Balfour has once again managed to transform a rather obtuse pastime into something enchanting, almost mystical, by weaving stories of the game's history, conventions and eccentricities into the fabric of his own life. The author's relationship with his late father, a devotee of Bridge, is at the centre of this extremely honest memoir which with sublime dexterity, and no small amount of dust-dry humour, combines themes of belonging, loss, regret and learning with a brilliantly entertaining journey of how a parlour diversion became a truly world sport full of intense rivalry and high-stakes.