Instead of a map you might be able to use Richard Ford’s ‘The Sportswriter’ to getThe Sportswriter around some parts of New Jersey, so topographically exact is his writing. Or maybe it’s all fiction? If so, it’s very convincing fiction indeed. He has a real feeling for place and precise location.

Frank Bascombe (also a major character in Ford’s later work) has something of the Holden Caulfield’s about him: the naivite, the endless introspection, the itchy desire to be always on the move, traits somewhat understandable in Salinger’s young adolescent but a little misplaced, it would seem, in a man of 39.

There are reasons. Frank is haunted by the death of his 12 year old son. It happened some years before the start of the novel but he is still haunted by it when we meet him. In his own words: ‘For a time – this was a period after Ralph died – I had no idea about it myself. and in fact thought I was onto something big – changing my life, moorings loosed, women, travel, marching to a different drummer. Though I was wrong.’ This loss is at the heart of the book and  is achingly at the heart of the novel’s first scene where he and his ex-wife get together on a Good Friday morning at their son’s grave. The other great loss Frank has suffered is his marriage. As we read through the book it is impossible not to like Frank, but it’s also impossible not to see why his marriage broke up.

The book tells  a rather sorrowful story, but is far from being a sorrowful book. It is in fact hilarious in parts, especially those parts where Frank finds himself in situations where he has to deal with people whom he has (unwittingly) upset. As well as this, Ford’s wry humour is a constant undercurrent, as is his wisdom pertaining to humans and the reasons why we do what we do to each other.

And the story is Frank’s story, as told by Frank himself in an almost Joycean ‘stream of consciousness’ way, but not quite as strict as with Joyce (thank God: I prefer some filtering). He is always ‘seeing around’ things and getting a good hold on how other people think, and especially as to what they think of him. The book benefits too from being set in a short time span (Good Friday, Easter Sunday) which allows a sharp Joycean forensic analysis of the events.

Certainly one of the best books I have ever re-read.  If you like John Cheever (who gets a mention) and Raymond Carver, you will love this book. Absolutely recommended.

[I met Richard Ford when he gave a series of talks to the participants in a course I was doing in 2012. He is an amiable man with a strong sense of humour who wears his fame lightly. We all liked him very much.]

I am very happy to have had my poem The Taking of Christ  published in the SHOp Coverlatest SHOp magazine. At the same time, I am very sad because this is the final edition. John and Hilary Wakeman have decided the time has come to retire after many years with ‘SHOp’ and (in John’s case) previously with the Rialto Poetry Magazine. I am very indebted to SHOp for publishing my work over the years. The standard was always very high and publication alongside some of poetry’s finest practitioners always brought a feeling of validation. Publication of a poem is a big event in a poet’s writing life and publication in SHOp was always even more special than usual.  I wish both John and Hilary every good wish in their retirement.

I am also indebted to The National Gallery of Ireland for their permission to reproduce in this blog Caravaggio’s extraordinary painting, the inspiration for my poem.

The Taking of Christ

from the painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (National Gallery of Ireland)

All have fled save one and he in terror

struggles to escape into the darkness,

arms outspread, his cloak caught by a soldier

while the one they’ve come for is surrounded,

turns his cheek to take the lethal kiss.


High in the right-hand corner there’s a lantern

held above the swirl of cloth and armour

by a man who pushes past a soldier –

wants a closer look at how it is

that loyalty is so readily thrust aside.


This scene has occupied his brush so long

he has become a part of it. He,

reprobate and murderer in his time,

could not but paint himself one of the throng

irrupts into Gethsemane tonight.


Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), ‘The Taking of Christ’, 1602.

Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio, 1571-1610, The Taking of Christ, 1602.

Oil on canvas 133.5 x 169.5cm

By Kind permission and courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland and the Jesuit Community of Leeson Street, Dublin, who acknowledge the generosity of the late Dr Marie Lea-Wilson.

Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.