Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Queen's Gambit

By Walter Tevis.

Very good story about chess. Who knew it could be so exciting? While in an orphanage, Beth Harmon happens to see the janitor playing chess in the basement one day... and she's hooked. While she has a significant talent at the game, she does have other problems: she uses the tranquilizers the orphanage handed out to "even their dispositions" to sleep at night, and becomes somewhat dependent on them. She has very few friends and no social life; almost her entire focus is on chess, her idol

There is some sex, although none of it seems particularly gratuitous; it reveals some things about Beth's character. Still, it is explicit enough that you may not a child read this book. There is also some profanity.

This book hints at deeper issues than chess. Beth's dependence on tranquilizers and later alcohol reflect her unhappiness with the rest of her life. Halfway through, she meets another child prodigy whose goal is to be the best by age 16, and asks him what he will do then. The question is obviously one she should be thinking about herself. (And perhaps she is, off-stage, since she thought to ask it.)

Recommended. A note: unlike my usual fare, the only fantastic element in this is Beth's amazing talent for chess, which is arguably not something completely out of the realm of possibility, considering real examples of prodigies. Also of note is the age: this book was published in the 1980s and seems to be set somewhat earlier than that.

This is Sarah Deming's favorite novel (that's how I found it), and she created a Wikipedia entry for it.

No comments: