q Book Reviews: The Reel Djokovic, Or Keeping Electricity In Marriage - Bruce Dennill

Book Reviews: The Reel Djokovic, Or Keeping Electricity In Marriage

September 21, 2022



The Third Reel by SJ Naude

Novak Djokovic by Chris Bowers

Waiting For The Electricity by Christina Nichol

The 4 Seasons Of Marriage by Gary Chapman

1,234 QI Facts To Leave You Speechless by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson & James Harkin

The Anglo-Boer War In 100 Objects by The War Museum of the Boer Republics


The Third Reel is an extraordinarily complex novel, moving in and out of shadow, involving one lasting relationship. It is the account of a young South African evading conscription and fleeing to Thatcher’s England. It is also a flight from his family. He moves into a series of sexual encounters in the derelict haunts of London squatters, encountering a German artist, Axel, who will in many ways define his future. As a student of cinematography, Etienne finds the first of three reels of film from the Germany of the 1930s, and becomes obsessed with the search for the other two. Axel disappears to Berlin, and Etienne follows him there, experiencing both sectors of the divided city. He is able to discover more about the makers of his film. This a story of sexual experimentation, of AIDS, of the surreal life of prisons, of escaping identity and re-inventing personality. It is a story also of forced returns to an earlier life and confrontation with the past. I am reminded of the Dutch Determinists of the late 19th Century, whom I read with fascinated horror. It is a dark book, with little access to light and reason. It is labelled a thriller, but is not that in the normal sense of the word. The world of Etienne and Axel undoubtedly exists, but I’d rather not enter it: the book gives no pleasure and no entertainment. The protagonist makes no decisions. He is carried by the whims of others and the tides of circumstance. I’d rather not float with him. I accept that others find this book scintillating, extraordinary and filled with meaning. I am undoubtedly in the minority in my views. – RH


Novak Djokovic is an ‘authorised biography’ and is an extraordinarily detailed history of the athlete and of his tennis career. It is a book for tennis aficionados and for those who revel in match-by-match detail, as also for those who seek to understand the psychology of sports greatness. Chris Bowers has taken his assignment seriously. He has researched the family background, the nature of the Yugoslav wars, the emergence of Serbia as an independent state and the politics of international tennis with as much attention to detail as he has lavished on the analyses of important tournaments and matches. Bowers spent a good deal of time coming of an understanding of Djokovic’s early development and the part played by his coaches. Particular tribute is paid to Jelena Gencic. The first part of the book is particularly fascinating. The detailed section on “fathers and sons” is of interest, but obviously speculative. What is important is the devoted support the family gave the young Djokovic, making real sacrifices. Other tennis stars have been born out of different and far less challenging situations. Who else can claim an experience comparable to “hardened by NATO’s bombs”? The possibly more important but less intriguing part of the book is the tale of tournaments, of battles on court and personal conflicts, of injuries, of trainers and of successes and failures. This is a good book. I do not know if Djokovic anticipated such detailed analyses of his life, but that is also the price of glory. – RH


The premise for Waiting For The Electricity is unlikely to be a repeat of something you’ve read before. It’s set in Georgia, shortly after the Eastern European state gained independence from the Soviet Union. Its protagonist, Slims Achmed Makashvili (there’s an amusing story behind his bizarre name) is, like most of his countrymen – only the corrupt politicians make any appreciable sort of money – underpaid, underfed and under-stimulated. He has little hope of changing his situation, but a combination of ambition and naivety means his belief in the infinite possibilities of capitalism as presented by the US (and Slim’s hero, Hilary Clinton, in particular) never dims. A trip to the promised land, though, does change his perspective. As satire, the book succeeds to a point, highlighting the folly of both the blind loyalty displayed by many on the side of communism and the ugly venality of the Western world and many of its supposedly successful societies. But irregular flashes of humour and moments of pathos are not enough to drive a story that seems to have been built around tone rather than a lean narrative. Versions of similar conversations come up again and again, possibly because the interactions therein are, relative to other novels, original and charming. But the repetition becomes stale, particularly once it starts to feel condescending to the characters. That’s unlikely to have been the author’s intention – she’s worked in Georgia and her affection for the place and its people is evident – but perhaps a tighter edit would have helped with pacing and flow. – BD


Dr Gary Chapman has a sterling reputation in the gently persuasive relationship advice sector, being – among other things – the author of the best-selling The 5 Love Languages, which has become household shorthand between partners around the world. This small volume, The 4 Seasons Of Marriage by Gary Chapman, focuses on marriage, using the effective, but obvious, metaphor of the passing seasons to describe the highs and lows of long-term relationships, the challenges that will likely arise and the possible solutions to those. The advice is well-meaning, worthy and easy to apply, all of which is positive, but as reading matter, it’s not terribly engaging. Certainly, if a reader is having some sort of conventional hiccup in their marriage, having this book on hand to dip into for a bit of insight will be helpful. But it’s moderate council, not a ringing klaxon that sticks in your brain; sensible rather than exciting. – RH


As miscellanies of bizarre, wonderful and fascinating facts, the ever-expanding range of QI books makes for mind-expanding, general knowledge-bolstering reading. And where those publications comprise collected essays or short-ish but detailed entries on each point, there’s a great amount of satisfaction to be gained from reading them. 1,234 QI Facts To Leave You Speechless, however, is essentially a Twitter account transferred to print, with each page featuring four centre-aligned, single-sentence facts. There’s not context and there’s no added explanation if a reader would like a little more detail. As such, it’s only the brand’s excellent reputation for accurate research that makes this feel like a valid resource – the lack of supporting text would undermine a similar standalone title from a less well-known source. It’s a quick, flip-through read, and for the price of the hardcover version, some readers will likely feel short-changed. – BD


The Anglo-Boer War In 100 Objects brings the victories and the tragedies – and the full extent of human drama behind this war – to life through 100 iconic objects. Anyone interested in the history of the Anglo-Boer war will no doubt have visited the museum in Bloemfontein with its famous statue designed by Anton van Wouw and dedicated to the women and children who died and suffered during the war. Emily Hobhouse was due to unveil it but was too ill to travel further than Beaufort West. However, for those people who cannot get to Bloemfontein, this book contains nearly all the information that you would get from visiting the museum. Although this book is not to be read in a day, it is easier than spending at two to three days going through the museum. It also gives clarity on the progress of the war. The contents start with “War clouds gather” and then the “Initial Battles and Sieges”. These are followed by chapters on the medical services, the cast of characters, the scorched earth policy and prisoners of war. There are a number of paintings and some original photographs but of general interest are the exhibits of personal articles that have somehow survived to this day. An example is a tin sent by Queen Victoria containing six small chocolate bars and a pouch belonging to a nurse which holds six different medical instruments. There is also the scarf worn by President Steyn during his escape from Reitz. The chapter on the scorched earth policy and the incarceration of the many women and children is heart-wrenching. Many black people also lost their homes and cattle even though they were not directly involved. Other must-see Anglo Boer War Museums include the Talana Museum at the base of Talana Hill, The Ladysmith Siege Museum and the Mafikeng Museum.  However none of these is as comprehensive as the Bloemfontein War Museum – MH