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So much narcissism!
on 14 September 2009
This book documents a rightly revered moment in boxing history. Mailer's blow-by-blow account of the fight itself is exhilarating and works as a great companion piece for all eight rounds of the original TV footage. But the showdown between Ali and Foreman doesn't arrive until the very end of the narrative. Almost everything up to that point is a protracted, high-brow love letter from Mailer to himself.
I found this hard to forgive. The question needs to be asked: who was Mailer writing this for? The genuine boxing fans? If so, he alienates them totally with vast literary pretentions. Was he aiming it at middle-class America, hoping to shed some civilised light on what many denounce as a barbaric sport? He fails on that count by expecting prior boxing knowledge from his audience. Was he simply writing it for his journalist cronies, who he name-checks assiduously (George Plimpton, Hunter Thompson, etc) during their all-expenses-paid jolly in Kinshasa's casinos, restaurants and bars?
Or was he just writing it for himself? There's a mammoth amount of ego on display. Speaking about his own exploits in the third person, putting himself in the shoes of Joseph Conrad, inferring that he had a personal part to play in Ali's good luck and success... it's an ugly style of writing - conceited, pompous and vain.
Maybe he felt he had to match the giant egos of two Heavyweight Champions. Personally, I think it was the wrong approach to his subject. There's far too much Norman Mailer crowding for attention on these pages... like he's standing in the seat in front of you, spoiling your view of the fight.