Gary Dexter

Alternative reading | 2 December 2009

Surprising literary ventures

Text settings

The Utility Player

Tom Keneally

Thomas Keneally is the Booker-Prize-winning author of Schindler’s Ark and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. Tom Keneally is the author of The Utility Player, a biography of the rugby league player Des Hasler. Naturally Thomas and Tom are the same person. The unashamed idolatry of The Utility Player is difficult to convey here, but can be glimpsed in the following description: ‘Des is an Australian version of an Arthurian knight. His heart was strong because his soul was rigorously aligned . . . he is the Zen practitioner of rugby league, the code’s monk.’

Keneally is one of those people who see a single sport as a template for the clockwork of the universe, and he is not alone among practitioners of fiction in this. Consider, for example, On Snooker by the Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler, or Stephen King’s Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season, or Joyce Carol Oates’s book on boxing, or John Updike’s book on golf, or A. L. Kennedy’s book on bullfighting. The phenomenon might be called ‘Hemingway Syndrome’, in which even the greatest of literary gods feel themselves small and desk-bound when they contemplate the animal freedoms of the arena.