The Rules of Play
Jennie Walker
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Buy *The Rules of Play* by Jennie Walker online

The Rules of Play
Jennie Walker
Soho Press
160 pages
January 2010
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The unnamed narrator of Jennie Walker’s short novel has made a good life for herself, her husband, Alan, and her stepson, Selwyn, yet she continues to be haunted by the possibilities of love and love’s betrayal. In simple but powerful images in which the game of cricket proves to be a symbolic force, this woman must finally come to terms with her betrayals and heartaches.

There's a moment of doubt, the thud of the pulse, the quick image of what is to come when she falls into an affair with her lover of only three months and one week, an insurance salesman known only as the “loss adjuster.” While she meets for clandestine trysts in his fourth-floor mansion flat, every part of her inside and outside alive, Alan sits at home and watches the current test match between England and India.

Burdened by her home life and the lack of intimacy with Alan, the narrator is just happy to be loved by Selwyn and Agnieszka, her proud, intelligent and ambitious housekeeper. But both are equally caught up in their own private little worlds.

Caring and conscientious, “a safe pair of hands,” Alan rearranges cookery books by the light of the moon while she rushes away into the arms of the man who wears yellow Wellington boots and whose job reeks of doom, disaster, and things gone awry. Clearly there has been little - or no - real communication between her and her family until now.

Selwyn is often bored, avoiding her with his eyes. He knows the extent of his stepmother’s dalliances, and he challenges her on her choices as Alan continues to perpetually watch cricket and exude an affable disinterest. The author’s sharp, lucid prose defines a family in crisis and an unsympathetic woman who seems disenchanted and disengaged with her family yet also desperate to change the way "she plays the game."

Stubbornly groping for something to hold on to - and for some reason to fix on a memory of Selwyn at about age seven - Walker’s protagonist is dazed by her unexpected burden and eventually withdraws, seeking solace in the streets and the London underground. While not a particularly likeable woman, the author handles her internal conflicts with a certain sympathy and panache, the metaphor of Alan’s cricket game adding devil-may-care attitude to her search for meaning in love and in life.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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