21 February 2021

#Review - The Big Blind by Lavie Tidhar

Cover by Pedro Marques

The Big Blind
Lavie Tidhar
PS Publishing, November 2020
Available as: HB, 164pp
Source: Signed HB bought from the publisher
ISBN: 9781786365989

I ordered the signed edition of The Big Blind last Autumn and forgot all about it. Then it arrived as a very welcome surprise in February, I leafed through it to remind myself what it was... and found I was sitting there at midnight finishing it.

All that despite it being a close study of a poker player and poker games - something I know almost noting about (cowboys in saloons? Something something raise you? Poker face?)

Tidhar's story follows Claire, a young Irishwoman whose father was a legendary poker player. She was introduced to the tables young, given a bit of money and left to get on with it. Later she ran wild (though, I have to say, she doesn't sound VERY wild - drinking and smoking seems to be the sum of it). Now she's considering life as a nun (she's a novice, she hasn't taken final vows yet: still time to decide what she really wants) but sneaks out and night to play for money, which she donates anonymously to the convent.

Or perhaps, Claire can't bear to lose all of her former life, and she's found a way to play and yet satisfy her conscience? 

That question hovers over this book. What is Claire really at? In conversations - with Mikey (who she meets over cards), with her mother (who's aghast that Claire may be going the way of her father), with the other nuns, with a priest at Confession - Claire dodges round and round this issue. Told to stop playing, she absconds by bus to play the Big Game, which could lead to a place at a televised London championship. Aghast at what she's done, explaining it to that priest, has she accepted that she can't go back? Is she inside looking out, or outside looking in? Tidhar handles this spiritual dilemma delicately, embedding it in a compelling story that's driven by a succession of poker games.

I don't, as I have said, know the first thing about poker, so the detail here is lost on me. Yet it's still clear from Tidhar's commentary where we are in the game, who's going down and what the risks are. This is as nail-bitingly portrayed an account of an epic contest as you could wish for (I assume that if you know your poker it's even more than that!) The depiction of the relatively tight, closed and familiar world of the professional and aspirant players (it, too, has its novices and its sworn members) is also good, showing us a community, a little world. The championship itself is interpreted and commentated by a pair of slightly cheesy TV presenters (complete with fourth-wife jokes) who act as a kind of chorus, further clueing-in the reader to what's just happened and why it might, just might, be rather remarkable.

A really enjoyable book, different from anything I'd read by Tidhar before (but then, I think that every time I open one of his books). Recommended. 

For more information about The Big Blind, and to order a copy, see the PS Publishing website here.

No comments:

Post a Comment