Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Old Man and the Sea

Fantasy Bob discovers that it is 60 years to the day that Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea.  This novel was Hemingway's last major piece of fiction to be published in his lifetime.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

The novel tells the tale of Santiago an aging fisherman who has gone many long days without a catch - 84 in fact.  He is dubbed unlucky by his fellow villagers and no one will sail with him.  He sets out alone and hooks a giant fish which he takes days to subdue.  Eventually he is able to lash it to the side of his boat but as he makes his way back to base sharks circle the boat and bit by bit chew up the fish so that when he lands only the skeleton is left.

There have been many critical readings of this work.  It is suggested that it is a meditation on Hemingway's own mortality - he died in 1961.  It is an existentialist allegory.  It is about faith, religion and redemption.  And so on.

It is easy to see why the critics have been mislead into these fanciful interpretations.  Cricket was not a prominent feature of Hemingway's work up until this point.  Bull fights and boxing tended to crowd out the macho possibilities of  depicting leather on willow.

However it is obvious to Fantasy Bob that The Old Man and the Sea is a great cricketing novel.  For Fantasy Bob has been in Santiago's position many times.  He is an aging cricketer. He has bowled 84 overs without the hint of a wicket.  His colleagues dub him unlucky, they leave him alone at deep fine leg.  One day,  he is brought on to bowl when all alternatives have run out. Miraculously, he is on song, his length and line return and there is that hint of late swing so tricky for lower league batsmen.  A wicket is within his grasp, surely.  But he is denied by the circling sharks of dropped catches and perverse umpiring decisions.

Does a cricketer give up?  Will Fantasy Bob?  Not a chance.  For Hemingway captured the cricketer's attitude precisely:

Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” he wrote in the Old Man and the Sea and, further on,

It's silly not to hope. It's a sin he thought.”

Test Match Quality. Pulitzer Prize Quality. And well worth the Nobel Prize for Cricket too.


  1. I have read this book 9 yrs ago. I still remember the characters and the details, which rarely happens with me. I have swallowed many a renowned and award winnig books after that (managed to digest a few!) I can say it is one the best books I have ever read for it takes you on an incredible journey. A must read for every book lover.

    1. Many thanks - it is an excellent work indeed.

    2. Bagging a difficult catch in the deep is a huge challenge for every fielder, especially an elderly one. It seems this book is a cricketing allegory after all.