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Four King awful
on 7 September 2009
Having read the other reviews here I found Four Kings incredibly disappointing.
The writing style is both clunky and prosaic. Kimball lives in a world where ringside reporters are "enterprising scribes" and fighters "repair to their dressing quarters" after bouts - language that would suit a Victorian historical drama but sits uncomfortably when applied to the brutal sport of boxing.
But it gets worse. The book's structure is all over the place. Admittedly it is necessary to jump about between the four protagonists but this is so sloppily done that there's absolutely no narrative flow whatsoever and whole chunks of information are repeated again and again. And again.
But perhaps the worst style issue is the way Kimball insists on giving away the result of all the big fights in the first couple of paragraphs of their build-up. Whether you're familiar with the stories of these great boxers or not, this literary tic kills any tension stone dead.
And why Roberto Duran's fantastic victory over Iran Barkley to win back a world title at the age of 37 is dashed off in a single sentence is beyond me. Especially when so much of the book is devoted to trudging through the results of meaningless undercard bouts and the tedious machinations of the sport's governing bodies.
But Kinball's worst crime is the fact that he was actually there at ringside, in the fighters' training camps and at their press conferences throughout this golden era of boxing and yet he offers so little insight into the events and personalities involved. When he does stray into the first person his accounts are limited to some painfully unfunny exchanges between himself and other "scribes" and some smug back-patting about the journalism awards he's won. The whole thing reads like it was knocked together from press cuttings by an unimaginative hack to a very tight deadline.
There is a fantastic book to be written about what was an extraordinary era of boxing populated by more than its fair share of legendary fighters. Unfortunately, this isn't it.
If you want to find out how it should be done, buy Norman Mailer's terrific account of Ali vs Foreman, The Fight, instead...