Considering the nature of this book I could easily write a review full of puns and not so subtle metaphors. I could regurgitate the issue of the terms game set, and match; joke about the love point, and make bad asides regarding Henman, Wimbledon and the courts of life.
But despite the intro I’m not going to; as though the action may revolve about a couples tennis career, the actual message of the book is a lot more personal, and the game becomes merely a framing device for something deeper and more frightening.
Enter Willy an emotional recluse who’s unable to curb her competitive nature, even in marriage and Eric, a hopeless overachiever who manages to excel without ever trying at anything. There we have the basis for a relationship, where two strong willed people team up in the game of life and love, yet mange to infuriate and upset eachother with their constant need for reaffirmation, both publicly and privately.
The dialogue between Willy and Eric verges form abysmally coquettish to insanely visceral as they move from sex on the court to unfettered hatred, all revolving around their rankings in the game. Willy’s emotional violence is scary to read, as her unstable emotions seem acutely depicted, and it feels uncomfortably close to home when you see how she can’t relish her partners success unless she is doing well.
Eric’s own life is hardly perfect as his natural ability clouds his relationships with his siblings who are fractured and resentful in his shadow and his father is so overbearing and consuming his achievements are seen as an extension of his family rather than a personal accomplishment. The relationships in the book are fantastically crafted with even the side characters fleshed out so we can see them in entirety.
It’s a novel about desire, accomplishments, and the female competitive nature; as much about equality as it is about reality, and the dissensions which exist in any marriage compounded by the framing device of the tennis courts.
Willy’s character is perhaps more simple than Eric, as her self- focused mindset is her own undoing, with her desire for self control and success so consuming that the added distraction of love leads to her inevitable deterioration and breakdown.
Eric fares slightly better but his role as the compassionate all understanding success story is equally frustrating, as is his inability to connect with those who fail to meet his high standards. He easily discards match players who fail to live up to his standards so it’s not impossible to understand why Willy feels her marriage is part game as it is a union of souls.
Essentially this is about how talent and love aren’t always enough, and that the measure of success is driven by more than career based approval. A fantastic insight into the minds of troubled individuals and a scary glance at how positive ideals and goals can lead to ones downfall.