Tanya Jones: Trotter's Bottom
An original book – announced as
a crime story but turns out to be a comedy, if not a
joke. Stylistically it sways wildly from a Shakespearian
style to Miss Marple, from peoples comedy (Volkskomödie)
to a view of modern society. A good book? A bad one?
No idea really! But a lot of fun, you can rest assured.
Zhukowsky, a veteran Russian Grandmaster
thinks his English wife has been murdered. In the conservative
village of Rambleton this is an unprecedented and unwelcome
happening. Only Ophelia O., alias Oliver, a lawyer,
mother of six, and much more, believes the story. She
starts to make inquiries – which means that she
stumbles from one calamity to another.
Each one of them is part of a little
story with many people involved. In fact, the book depends
upon these little stories. It is like an impressionist
painting: the whole comes together only when viewed
from a certain distance, seemingly working out only
at the end, when nearly all participants – the
centenarian nun as well as the village PC Plod, the
famous Grandmaster and the murderer, the upright solicitor
and the war veteran and umpteen more – come together
at the chess tournament, where – as in a Shakespearian
climax – the bombshell is dropped.
Everywhere in this chaos, in this affectionate
- domestic knit-work of story telling, where no-one
can grasp any more whether all the threads, when spun
together, create a piece of tapestry or whether a stitch
is lost, chess pops up, which very often leads to a
humorous situation. The main pattern is chequered black
- "chess groupies" (" who would never
give their love to any men below International Master
level" – good news for IMs upwards),
- sensible discussions about womens chess (Girls
are good at lots of important things – Like?
– Chess, she suggested – Oh, chess
We were talking about important things.)
- terrified geniuses who gave up playing chess after
a series of humiliating defeats and have turned to
hanging around with the groupies,
- old fashioned chess fanatics who "continued
their twenty-five-year-long discussion on the Kings
- or chess machos ("Blackburn was a man
a real man. Drank like a man, fought like a man, played
chess like a man. No wonder the nebbichs couldnt
If a mans not got the stamina
to spend all night over the chess board, he has no
business calling himself a chess player at all,
- and Ophelia even suffers a mystical chess vision:
("She looked down the tables towards her daughter,
and was struck suddenly by the hundreds of pieces,
and thousands of squares, no board showing the same
position, each pawn poisoned or active, the servant
of its master's skill, hazard or inattention.
For a moment she saw what Mother Thérèse
had meant by the Dance, felt herself caught
up by the magic of the ancient game, bedazzled by
the forces of will, desire and intellect which were
concentrated in the tiny figures).
- but mostly there are mischievous dialogues: "Interested
in chess? A pretty girl like you?" and so on.
How could it be otherwise in a book with
chapter headings like "An English Opening",
"The Moscow Variation" or "The Corkscrew
Somehow during "Opening Preparation"
and "Bishops Ending" all is solved, the culprit
is unmasked, and with him much typical English conventionality
and pedantry. It all happens during a very popular local
chess tournament, of which the grandchildren will have
something to talk about.
In the authors words: "
required close inspection and a degree of lateral thinking
which was, thankfully, quite common among chess players".
It is this sort of banter with which the story abounds.
Indeed it is true what was written in
the Peterborough Evening Telegraph: "Tanya Jones
must have a tremendous sense of humour. She does have
a tremendous talent. She would have had much more
success if the "Daily Telegraph were to have
written this. So, the book is still an insider tip.
Tanya Jones: Trotters bottom. Headline
Book Publishing. London 1997. 314 pages