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Books

The Dazzle

 

Published by Jonathan Cape, Feb 2013.

It's set against the (real) tuna fishing craze in Scarborough in the 30s, which attracted the glamorous White Mischief set. There are reviews now, so I don't have to describe it too much myself...

Reviews:

The Scotsman

The Independent

York Press

Daily Mail

Sunday Times (Paywall - transcribed below)

Times Literary Supplement (Paywall - transcribed below)

Transcribed Reviews:

I'm pretty sure it's wrong to transcribe reviews. I am uncomfortable with it. I do it because I strongly believe no one will ever subscribe to the papers in question just to read these reviews, and therefore no one will ever see them. I think, therefore, I am doing very minimal harm and I am helping myself. Look at the TLS review. If I didn't put it up it would sort of die, and for very obvious reasons I oppose that. Enough throat clearing.

 

TLS - Anthony Domestico

Robert Hudson's The Dazzle isn't just set in 1930s high society: it simmers and pops in it, showing us just how enchanting and dangerous life among the rich and bored can be. The novel opens in Scarborough in 1934. Fishing for giant tuna is all the rage, and John Fastolf, an earl famous for his decadence, has organized a contest between two men: Zane Grey, the bestselling and self-aggrandizing novelist of the American West, and Lorenzo Mitchell-Henry, a "crusty English gent" and professional tuna hunter. Joining the men on board Fastolf's boat (the Dazzle) are Henny Rosefield, a beautiful woman in search of revenge, and the young Martha Gellhorn. Although many of Hudson's characters are real historical personages - including Grey and Mitchell-Henry, as well as Gellhorn - this is very much a work of fiction.

The Dazzle is filled with period jargon ("I mummed the he-man horrified at the thought of small talk"), technical details about 1930s tuna fishing, and dramatic irony (the rich go fishing as the world lurches towards the Second World War). It is highly melodramatic: there are drug rings and undercover agents, fancy dinner parties and bitchy conversation. Characters bed-hop with dizzying frequency, and everyone is either blackmailing or being blackmailed. Hudson is unashamed of such elaborate plot elements, and regularly pushes things to the point of absurdity in the name of entertainment. But The Dazzle is more than an escapist romp. Characters debate the project and price of civilization, with Fastolf claiming it to be "a foolish bauble we've knocked together between bouts of fighting and fucking". They worry about the roles people play and the stories they tell, and how both can end up determining one's inner self; they discuss biological necessity and the nature of desire and justice. At one point, Henny says to Fastolf, "You play the playboy, but you really want to philosophise". This is partly why The Dazzle is so much fun. Neither the playfulness nor the philosophizing seems forced; both are necessary to Hudson's story. As Mitchell-Hedges puts it: "It's wheels within bloody wheels, Jane, and it's capital good sport".

 

Scarborough Evening News - Sue Wilkinson

Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies meets Herman Melville's Moby Dick - that sums up The Dazzle. Let's throw in a bit of Bulldog Drummond for good measure.

It is a story of society at war with itself, coming to terms with the aftermath of one world conflict and facing another, a personal battle between two men to land the biggest fish, a fight between man and beast, and a battle of the sexes.

Yes, it is set in Scarborough at the height of the tunny craze but despite including real people and places it is not an historical novel and was not intended to be. Hudson writes abotu women chasing men, chasing fish, women chasing lines of cocaine and men chasing teh dealers. The book is populated by adventurers, bounders, cads, decent sorts, ingenues and the world weary - and each, if not a pleasure to know, is at least interesting. it is all set in the decadent realms of the aristocracy where married men bed other women with their wives' blessings and lesbian lovers are served whisky sours by giantesses painted in bright geometric shapes.

There is nothing gaudy or tawdry about Hudson's work or writing. it fizzes like champagne and delightes with the turn of every page. Every scene and conversation, however far-fetched, rings true. The book is a right bobby-dazzler.

 

Sunday Times - Phil Baker

A tall story of big-game fishing in the inter-war years, The Dazzle places fictional aristocrat Johnny Fastolf in the company of real-life characters such as the American journalist Martha Gellhorn, the adventurer Mike Mitchell-Hedges and the bestselling writer of westerns Zane Grey, in a tuna-fishing competition off Scarborough in 1934. Untroubled by the fact that none of this happened, this is a work of elaborately ersatz “faction”, stirring comic details into the mix (Grey uses condoms with totem poles painted on them) along with blackmail, dope-pushing and a denouement involving Russian agents. It is far from believable, and emotionally uninvolving, but it is written with tremendous energy and a self-assured pizazz: the title comes from the name of Fastolf’s yacht, painted in a dazzle camouflage pattern, and it nicely catches the brilliant effect for which the book strives.

 

60 Second Reviews - Alexandra Heminsley

Robert Hudson is probably best known at this point for Warhorses of Letters, which was this Radio 4 series and now a book, which features warhorses writing each other love letters. As you will imagine, Robert Hudson has no problem with veering off into the fantastical. The Dazzle is very much that. It's set in 1934 in Scarborough among flappers and Fitzgerald types, and a giant tuna catching competition, why not? It's the sort of book which someone who loves Jasper Fforde and the fantastical, and the element of punning and the sort of worlds which might not exist but hey, who are you to argue, might long for, but it's slightly more literary than that, it's a little bit more grounded in old-fashioned storytelling. It's got beautiful, well-rounded characters with a splash of Wodehouse to them. It's an absolute treat.

 

Warhorses of Letters

Did Marengo and Copenhagen - warhorses to Napoleon and Wellington respectively - really conduct a torrid literary affair? Yes. Is Radio 4 really dramatising same with Stephen Fry and Daniel Rigby? Yes. Is Unbound turning this into a book, featuring the original letters as well as extensive hoofnotes, bonus correspondence and an Astonishing Bibliographical Essay? Yes.

 

The Kilburn Social Club

The Kilburn Social Club is a Premiership team with a difference. It's a utopian dream whose players are all paid the same and whose money comes from an idealistic family-run business empire. Its players are opera singers, academics and Argentinian millionaires, and its captain led Great Britain to World Cup glory.

When her father dies suddenly, Aisling is catapulted from her life as a medical student into the world of high-stakes sport and big business – much to her dismay. She has to protect the club and its values from greedy tycoons and rapacious players, deal with the deadly rivalry of her football-mad sister, and face the fact that the world isn't always how we imagined it would be.

Full of real heroes and proper villains, this is a state-of-the-nation romance about idealism, identity and love.

GUARDIAN - PATRICK NEATE
The Kilburn Social Club is a hard novel to pin down. For sheer brio and imagination, it bears comparison with Louis de Bernières's early novels or, perhaps better, the stories of Julian Gough, but Hudson is not as funny as these two (if every bit as much fun) ... This is an enormously enjoyable, adept and, above all, confident debut; and like all the best writers, Hudson has the good sense to wear his confidence lightly.

BBC RADIO 6 - ALEX HEMINSLEY
It's the kind of book I can imagine people would get quite obsessed by ... he's taking liberties with reality, but it still creates a real world which you feel like you're in when you're reading it ... It's the kind of thing if you saw someone at a party and they'd read it too, you'd want to spend half an hour dissecting it.

ROBERT MACFARLANE
A terrific book, for all sorts of reasons: how lightly the comedy and conceits are worn; the thumping readibility of it; the laughs ... It's also a subtle emotional saga, and elegantly counter-factual, and playing all sorts of nice games with genre. This is a fizzy, funny, fantastical first novel.

THE TIMES - KATE SAUNDERS
This great brick of a first novel is about football, but not really about football. Of course it's a satire about UKFC, set in what the author describes as 'a version of present-day London' - but it's also funny and richly inventive, and you don't have to like the beautiful game to enjoy the journey.

ELLE - ALICE WIGNALL
Even those of you who want to scream at the sound of Match of the Day's theme tune will find yourself falling for The Kilburn Social Club ... Inventive, moving, very funny and magically imaginative, debut author Robert Hudson's book is actually about love, friendship, betrayal, revenge, honour and grief. It's just got a bit of football thrown in.

ROBERT WEBB
A beautiful book; funny, compelling and tender. Any debut novel from me will now have to be 8 times better than I thought I could get away with. And I don't even mind.

TLS - TIM SOUSTER
Run by a paternalistic aristocrat, the club represents a world where the moral standing of football players and club owners is as important as, and even has influence on, what happens on the pitch ... an echo of Jonathan Coe's What a Carve Up! ... manages to be both frothy and hefty

BBC RADIO 5LIVE - TIM BOWLER
Ambitious in the most quirky sense ... a very, very complex, multilayered book, very playful book, it's got a marvellous sense of the ridiculous ... I thought it was tremendous. And the talking football - it's worth buying the book just to find out about the talking football.

SUNDAY TIMES - ADAM LIVELY
This Guardian-readers' fantasy football is fondly elaborated as the club struggles to retain its distinctive ethos in a world of rapacious agents, cynical journalists and scheming business tycoons ... Hudson is definitely a talent to watch.

FINANCIAL TIMES - ADRIAN TURPIN
It's Eden with floodlights ... Reminiscent in places of Iain Banks's The Crow Road and Jonathan Coe's What a Carve Up, Hudson’s intricately plotted comedy works best at its broadest, satirising soccer’s greed

SCOTT PACK
An ambitious and remarkably successful attempt to write a serious football book set in an alternative London. Part epic family saga, part dirty dealing business satire, part sports fantasy.