on 15 June 2006
Note: `Revenge' is the same novel as `The Stars' Tennis Balls' re-titled for the American market
You can't go wrong with Fry's novels: his plots are unpredictable, his writing style is witty, intelligent and captivating, and his (dark) humour is ever-present ... what more could you ask for?
on 11 November 2000
If you are going to buy this wonderful book, I urge you to buy it in cassette form. It is a pleasure just to listen to Fry's voice and he is perfect at portraying such upper-middle class characters with feeling and humour. Star's Tennis Balls is a captivating tale of Ned, caught in an entangled web of misery as the result of a practical joke by the Machiavellian Ashley, a character the listener will instantly loathe. Fry's linguistic skill makes this book all the more dark and disturbing and I couldn't switch the tape player off as I quickly sympathised with Ned, his situation both frustrating and depressing. It is a tale of one who has it all which inevitably never lasts, Fry's unique wit and wordplay enthralling the listener into his fictional world. It is also the complete unabridged version so I did not feel that I was missing out on anything by not purchasing the book. Overall, a macabre, absorbing tale which Fry reads with all his usual passion and intelligence. Already a firm favourite of mine.
on 6 May 2003
This was my first attempt at reading a book by Stephen Fry although he already has converts in all my family, and I'm now seriously concerned it might have spoilt me for any other book. It is a gripping, engaging, erudite book from cover to cover and I couldn't put it down. Yes Ned turns from pathetic wimp to revenging angel, but who wouldn't under the circumstances ? And Neds' final action tells of his painful ending. Big words and all I couldn't put it down; I found it one of the most complete stories I've ever read. Bravo.
on 7 December 2008
I certainly enjoyed this book; ah, how wonderful! - a tale of revenge - what a delicious theme! It is in fact a modern retelling of the ultimate revenge novel (and one of my all-time favourites), The Count of Monte Cristo. Many of the reviews I have read have commented on this and some have said that the plot was "stolen", but it is so close the actual that it would be foolish to deny that it is indeed The Count of Monte Cristo retold in a modern style. (And one reviewer rightly points out that a similar plot to that of Monte Cristo was around before the novel - incredibly, in real-life events.)
I was aware of this from the beginning, as my brother, who was reading it before me, commented that it was sad and read the part where Babe reveals to Ned that he has been imprisoned for 10 years. I then outlined the first part of Monte Cristo, and he said it sounded much the same. With this in mind whilst reading it, I marvelled at Fry's dedication to the original, preserving the characters and even adding some clever techniques - I felt especially smug when I worked out the pattern at the introduction of Paddy Leclare - and Portia! - ha ha - genius!
And this is where it loses a star. It is a well told, gripping story but it does not have the power of The Count of Monte Cristo. Fry is hurried, while Dumas takes his time and builds up suspense. The characters in The Stars' Tennis Balls and the incarceration that Ned suffers do not have the depth that is there in The Count of Monte Cristo and so do not fill the reader with the same lust for revenge and empathy for the protagonist. One thing Fry does manage to do, however, is give me a sense that revenge is at best, futile, at worst, immoral, which does not come across to me in Monte Cristo, whether this should be the case or not. I also find the backdrop of 20th century London, Sweden and Germany, does not have the dazzle of 19th century Paris, Rome, the Chateau d'If and the glorious island of Monte Cristo.
I am sure Stephen Fry knows this and simply wanted to pay homage to the great work of Dumas, and for those who may not have read the original, it gives them a great story in contemporary clothes (my brother literally could not put it down), but for those who have, it sometimes suffers a little from the comparison. It begs the question: If the original is an "all-time great", should one ever try to recreate it? I personally, am not at all sure.
Just to mention a couple of points that have appeared in other reviews:
1. The title refers to the influence fate has throughout the book, particularly the very unlikely coincidence that it should be Delft who intercepts the note (Dumas also relies heavily on coincidence - but is it not a factor in all our lives?) and also that Ned sees himself as an agent of fate.
2. I agree that none of the characters are particularly likeable or easy to sympathise with, but why should they be? We do not have to like every element of someone, or agree with everything they do! Some of the greatest novels have heroes we feel ambivalent about (See two great American novels: Gone with the Wind and Bonfire of the Vanities).
3. The gruesome bits. I did at points, screw up my face in a grimace of disgust, but I do believe that violence and horror has a place in literature and the book just would not have been successful without it. I agree, though, that some kind of warning beyond a pair of donkey's ears sporting a straw boater would have been nice!
To sum up: Thoroughly enjoyed, and thoroughly thought through, but will always suffer from comparison.
THIS REVIEW IS NOT WRITTEN BY THOMAS WADE; WE SHARE AN ACCOUNT.
on 6 March 2002
The beginning of this book grabs the reader's attention; Fry is a witty and a talented writer and the opening to this novel drew me in. I enjoyed the book immensely until Ned left the asylum, and was rooting for him all the way - then suddenly, the tone of the book changed, and became much darker. Not necessarily a bad thing; but here, it doesn't work.
Somehow, though I wanted Ned to get some kind of revenge for what happened, the latter part of the book felt overdone and tasteless, and I didn't really enjoy reading it. I would be tempted to say Fry was being brave in departing from the earlier tone and from his Mr Nice Guy image in general, but then the derivative nature of what ensues (noted by other reviewers on this site) prevents me from doing this.
I really wanted to like this book but I couldn't reconcile myself to the sheer nastiness of its ending. Perhaps it's unfair on Fry in the end - from a writer like Iain Banks the denouement might feel just right. Perhaps Fry was trying to get away from how he and his writing is perceived, but somehow it feels like he has missed the target with this one, rather than been misunderstood.
on 22 February 2001
Having opened the book and settled down for a pleasurely evening read, I was instantly gripped by the flagrant use of the English language. Characterisation of Ned was fantastic, we all knew people like him, and the twisted Ashley, envious Rufus, and of course Gordon. Only upon the introduction of Oliver Delft and his mother (the wonderfully upper-class Phillipa)did recollections of the Count arise. And from here on, despite the wonderful, flowingly twisted, intelligence of the language, it was all downhill.
After this, I couldn't help thinking I was reading a text translated from another language. The same characters, with the same flaws as in Dumas' classic, existing in a time when the internet allows me to do as I do now...
And yet, the romance of Dumas' original was lacking. The original panache gone. Instead, a sterile tale told in sterile times, only the how different, and each villain's vice magnified a hundred-fold to remove any pity we may have had for their counter-parts in the original.
And as for the end? For Ned? The count we were happy for. Ned, we just pity him. My enjoyment of the book was overshadowed by this, maybe exaggerated in my mind, lack of originality on the part of Mr Fry. I wondered if he was having a laugh at the uneducated oiks we obviously are...
on 20 October 2000
I think I must be missing something. Everybody likes this book, or has some sort of sensible opinion about it. I'm just shocked. Gobsmacked. Baffled. This is Stephen Fry. I like his books. They have a consistent tendency to do something good for me. Only, this time I really can't help feeling that the experience of reading the book copies the plot. You start off reading the book in good faith; Fry's books always make you happy. But you end up wondering what it is you have done to deserve this. Don't get me wrong. This isn't a bad book. In fact it's good. This does not stop me from wanting to vomit. Maybe I am taking this too personally (in fact, that's likely). Maybe it reminds me too much of the real thing. Maybe I'm not seeing the humour of it (that, too, is very likely). Maybe I don't want to. So? Read it, then, but brace yourself. The fainthearted are getting emotional about it.
on 10 December 2010
What a cracking book!
I have enjoyed all of Fry's novels, but found 'The Stars' Tennis Balls' particularly engrossing. Ned's absolute bewilderment and anger at his treatment at the hands of Delft, Barson-Garland and Cade is very compelling. The middle of the book, where Ned is take under Babe's wing, is very amusing.
It is certainly a most sinister story, with Maddstone's Bourne-esque capacity for vengeance much more clinical and brutal than that depicted in The Count of Monte Cristo.
on 28 January 2002
Along with other reviewers I foind this to be a mixed Fry. The literariness where it showed was true to form and the way Fry writes to teach us about words and history without patronising us sparkles. The characters were well formed and believable with the exception of latter day Ned. The hellish brutality of the torture (and "therapy" scenes) was extremely well written and worryingly good and the sequences of revenges I found to be utterly absorbing.
So where are my gripes? The first is the relative weighting. At least half the book is spent on the time in the treatment clinic as indeed it should, covering such a long period of time. However the passage of time doesn't match up. I felt he is there for less than the actual elapsed time. Then there is the issue about whether, after such treatment, Ned ("Thomas" by now) is actually sharp enough to take on the wisdom in Babe's masterclasses, or be as resourceful duing the escape from the sanitarium. And this spills into the final theme of the revenge planning. I never sensed that Ned ("Simon" at this stage) was actually bright or cunning enough to run the CotterDotCom business or have planned so meticulously the downfall of his tormentors, especially having missed so much of "normal" life and the development of the e-economy. So as much as I found the last scenes utterly page turning in their own right, they were ultimately based on some shakey character developments to my mind.
Other reviewers have thought this to be one of the less successful Fry works and a departure from his familiar territory. I guess I tend to think likewise, but it is still a rivertng read. And compared to so much dross that is out there, that's no bad thing.
on 14 January 2001
Is this book very very clever, or is it trying to make us think we are clever? There are a lot of distinct literary balls lobbed during this novel. Every major writing style, ditto. The school boy bit mimics the style of novels aimed at kids during a certain period; the characteristation of the hero (its the only word that applies) pre-island, is one dimensional, as though written by Adrian Mole. Even the source material (Othello, the Count) reminds me of what I read at that age. This is deliberate; Fry even lists the source material by name, hinting that he is up to something bigger. But what? We are gieven a clue in the desciption of the inmates angered by the invisible playing board. In this scene, the clever prisoner plays a mind game which maddens the mad. is Mr. Fry playing clever tennis with his readers? The second half of the book, right down to the German, Dutch and Swiss locations is straight spy thriller stuff. And the end? Jeffrey Archer meets John Webster? Is this post post-modernism? Is it pretend post-modernism? Or is the whole smoregesboard simply playing with post-modernism, as does with so many other genres? Its the best Stephen Fry book by far, a Gullivers Travels for the third millennium. Hold onto your first editions...