I wanted to like this more than I did. I’ve read several of Nick Hornby’s novels, and as I generally enjoy reading about sports and I enjoy memoirs and humor, I figured this book would be a gimme for me. But sadly, it wasn’t.
To say that Nick Hornby was obsessed with football/soccer is an extremely large understatement. And like all people with true obsessions, if you let them, they will talk in excruciating detail about the object of their obsession, and they will talk about it endlessly, sure in the knowledge that the subject of their fascination is so interesting that whoever is listening can’t help but appreciate every last bit of detail they can provide you with. Chances are, if you haven’t been on the receiving end of that kind of informative onslaught, you’ve been the one doing the talking (or wanting to do the talking). I have been both (whoops).
The funny things is, listening to someone (or reading their writing) about something they are well-informed at or skilled at can be pleasurable. But there’s a fine line between giving them information that will keep them interested and giving them so much it threatens to drown them. Unfortunately, I think that’s what happened here, for me.
Hornby talks about soccer with a level of detail that assumes his reader already knows what he’s talking about. He talks about soccer in a way I didn’t know it was possible to talk about soccer. There were times entire sentences meant nothing to me because the words or concepts he was using rang no synaptic bells whatsoever. And that was frustrating, especially so because the rest of the book was very good.
Hornby ties his soccer obsession in very nicely to his relationship with is father, his childhood, growing up. It’s also a very funny book. Hornby is unflinchingly aware of not only the negative (and positive) effects of his obsession on his own life, but is also extremely self-aware and reflexive about it. He talks about his love for soccer, and specifically his loyalty to his team, Arsenal, not as something he chooses to love, but which he literally can’t help but to love, even if he doesn’t want to. At times, it seems more like loathing than anything else. It’s actually pretty fascinating. I just wish the lengthy bits about soccer had been a little less impenetrable.