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Worthy but too long, too detailed
on 12 January 2014
The author's notes at the end of a long book run to sixteen pages, distilled from over a thousand in the original draft. The research is not to be questioned. But it suffers from a desire to find a place in the tale for everything discovered - and many are only tangential or marginal. This does not make for a fluent narrative. There is also a daunting feeling of repetition; from race to race, the build-up is little varied - the crew carry the boat to the water, climb aboard, wait nervously for the starter. This is a fact that is not the author's fault but his attempt to introduce variety become increasingly wordy.
However, there is a fundamental approach which this reader found disturbing. When incidents or conversations that took place eighty years ago are reported verbatim, doubts set in. Granted the research, the author can probably argue that he is confident that his reconstruction is justified. If this is not precisely how it was, it was certainly something like this. Maybe, but it is a poor basis for a historian. A historian who purports to tell us the exact moment a t which the coach stopped chewing his gum while watching the Olympic final.
There are other irritations. Every setback, large or small, is recorded but - because we know from the outset what the finish will be, there is a temptation to skip on a page or two where everything will have been resoled. For someone who teaches writing , it is surprising to find certain adjectives tediously repeated - flawless rowing, flawless teamwork, flawless rhythm, flawless blue skies, etc. Similarly, there is a lazy reliance on the easy cliche - tooh and nail, all hell broke loose, etc. And a diligent researcher who teaches English should be aware that a crescendo is not a climax , and an Olympiad is a period of four years not an event.
Small points maybe, but someone who wants to be taken seriously should do better. The temptation to award only two stars was narrowly averted.