Keeper by Mal Peet

5173X8W0JHLChildren’s books are not just for children. As Jennifer writes in this perceptive post, “advanced years are no excuse for missing out” on books that are “gloriously, unashamedly escapist” or simply happen to be books with juvenile protagonists and, as such, are marketed as children’s books.

It is also a rare feature of children’s writing that it often handles sport far better than supposedly adult counterparts. David Peace notwithstanding, as I pointed out in this post, writing about football is often limited to writing for young people, probably because sport in the British literary tradition is not seen as serious enough to warrant adult fictional treatment in the way it is the States.

Mal Peet’s beautiful book  is, however, a book that, though ostensibly written for a younger audience, should not be overlooked by adults. It is a beautiful story, rendered cleverly through the frame narrative of a journalist interviewing the world’s best goalkeeper and recent winner of the World Cup. Set in an unnamed South American country, Peet’s goalkeeper, El Gato, reveals how he came to play between the sticks, a magical, almost mystical tale of being coached by a forest-dwelling spirit with a mean didactic streak. This phantasmagoria contrasts with the grime and poverty of El Gato‘s home life, and matters come to a head when his father gets the proto-keeper a job on his logging plantation but then the youngster is offered professional football terms.

The forest provides a constant backdrop to the tale and also provides an aspect of the denouement, which obviously I am not going to reveal! But this is a book that, although being about sport, is also about other things, things as visceral and important as family, love, and the environment.

Peet’s prose is gloriously lucid, deftly handling the frame narrative and the conversation within it, and capable of producing moments of genuine brilliance and emotional pull. While the story’s teleology develops in some ways quite predictably, the twist is of rare beauty. And the supernatural aspect and South American setting (as well as the use of a writer as narrator) lend the novel a kind of magical realist tone, as if Garcia Marquez or Vargas Llosa had decided to write a children’s book about football.

As a piece of writing for young people, then, this book is a triumph. But it also touches something deeper, something that I, as an adult sports fan, was enormously moved by. As Jennifer says, don’t miss out.

Keeper is currently published by Walker and you can buy it

Leave a Reply


%d bloggers like this: