Close of Play Paperback – 3 Apr 2015
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I loved this. As with Outside Edge, it's not just the cricket, it's old life itself. Will happily commend Close of Play heartily. Howzat? --Robert Daws, actor, Poldark, Outside Edge, Jeeves & Wooster
About the Author
PJ Whiteley, who writes non-fiction as Philip Whiteley, is an experienced author, principally about management. He has written extensively about how low wages are bad for business, as part of a bid to try to convince economists that society consists of people. Taking a break from this Quixotic task, he has turned his hand to romantic comedy, seizing on the potential of men preferring to play or watch sport than talk about their feelings and stuff. Close of Play is the first novel, centering on perennial themes of the human condition: love, loss, hope, life choices and that nagging feeling in the back of the mind that you may not fully be up to date with how your team is doing. PJ Whiteley's boyhood ambition was to represent Yorkshire Cricket Club. He gave up playing as an amateur a few years ago when facing the quicker bowlers became a bit too tricky, but still plays five-a-side football. He works from home full time as an author and is married to a sex therapist, so things could have turned out worse.
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I'm not a cricket fan. But this book almost turned me into one. P J Whiteley exquisitely contrasts issues of the game with those of the game of love.
As for Colin's world view, I found myself heartily agreeing with almost all his opinions, especially with the logical reasoning he has for backing them up - I'm not sure if I should be worried by that, but it was so refreshing to have such a character given space to comment on societal and cultural change.
Elizabeth, the object of Colin's growing affection, is also a beautifully drawn character, and although we see her through Colin's eyes, P J Whiteley has this uncanny knack of letting the characters breathe and present themselves almost as though through a third-person omniscient narrator. This must surely be further testimony to the flexibility and nuance inherent in Colin's (or Brian's) authorial voice.
There were some truly tender scenes in this book. And some wonderful descriptive passages, and scenes of self-evaluation. P J Whiteley's touch is both light and deft. He knows when to hold off, so to let the reader feel the emotion, rather than spelling it out for you. This is high quality writing.
One of my favourite passages is when Brian is telling Elizabeth about the one love of his life, Brigid. Or at least what may have been, had things turned out otherwise - had he acted differently. At first I thought, gosh, Elizabeth is hearing all this - what will she make of it? But the section concludes by saying that Brian had told her a version of the story - not quite the one we heard, albeit still an affecting one for Elizabeth. I found this technique quite fascinating, and it opened up further layers in the narrative, showing what the novel can do, that other art forms cannot achieve nearly so well.
I must not give anything away about the ending - but suffice it to say that the way P J Whiteley orchestrates it, and the subsequent coda (about which I will also stay schtum) is really masterful, and made me feel really quite emotional. Those feelings are still hanging around several days after finishing reading it. I cared deeply for the central characters, and for most of the minor characters, too - they all felt real to me, they were all skilfully drawn, with just the right amount of detail.
As a side note, the weather (and seasonal change) is such an important aspect of this novel (as it tends to be, generally, in England, and certainly for those engaged in outdoor sports) - and it informs the various scenes often in quite a subtle way.
"Close of Play" is a novel of admirable restraint, delicacy of feeling, and gentle humour; and also one of quiet wisdom - and as in Chekhov's short stories and plays, it is very much in the awkwardnesses between people, the misunderstandings and sudden undoing of emotional knots, that the depth and range of our humanity seeks witness.
A splendid read in every regard!
PJ Whiteley writes with taste, feeling and humour. Stylish understatement is the keynote; serious emotions run deep but words remain unsaid by pub firesides on wet evenings, at cricket club dinners, in socially awkward walking groups. Brian and Elizabeth carry the narrative forward with thoughtful, real-world conversations about things that matter to decent people - altruism, faith, and fairness are strong themes - but with the convincing hesitancy of mature, complex people wary of hurt and regret. Supporting characters, though drawn with economy, splash colour and contrast around: the surly foster child, the portly cuckold, the gay guardian angel and his pop star partner. Typically, one cathartic scene takes place, not in a shouting match, but over a book in a quiet café. But don't be fooled; there's a corker of an ending - worthy of the great Gary Sobers himself.
I'm an Urbane stable mate of PJ Whiteley. I think he's a lovely chap. And I adore cricket. But those factors notwithstanding I can only say I've just spent a delightful sunny July afternoon reading "Close of Play" - I strongly recommend you mix yourself a Pimms (with plenty of borage) and do the same.