The 1p Book Review: Jonathan Rendall – Twelve Grand

The strange ways of internet commerce have meant that countless secondhand books can be bought online for £0.01 plus postage. The Dabbler will be recommending some of the out-of-print, forgotten or neglected gems that can be yours, at the time of writing, for a penny.

Today, guest writer Jon Hotten recommends Jonathan Rendall’s Twelve Grand [Yellow Jersey]

No-one’s ever written a perfect book have they? Jonathan Rendall hasn’t, but he’s written a couple of very good ones, and in improbable circumstances too. His first, a boxing memoir called This Bloody Mary Is The Last Thing I Own (a line spoken to him by a man in a bar in Las Vegas after a Frank Bruno fight), carries jacket blurbs from Tom Stoppard and Tom Wolfe, won the Somerset Maugham prize and is by some distance the best book about boxing I’ve read. His second, Twelve Grand, is finer still and to be frank, it’s a disgrace that you can buy it for 1p because Jonathan Rendall is an artist and 1p is no sort of a price for art.

Twelve Grand began as a stunt book. Rachel Cugnoni, the publisher at Random House’s sports imprint Yellow Jersey, wanted to give a writer an advance in the form of stake money for gambling. The proviso was that the entire sum, the Twelve Grand of Rendall’s title (yes, twelve grand is the sort of money they give you – a bloody scandal, isn’t it, considering the work they’re asking for…), had to be gambled and the narrative of the bets turned into a book. If the writer stayed ahead, they kept the winnings; if they lost, then the book must still be delivered.

Rendall realizes immediately that a) he is not the first writer that Rachel has contacted, and b) that the offer is a sucker bet in itself. So he does what any proper writer would do in the circumstances: he takes the money and writes whatever he wants, which in this case is a lovely, melancholic, autobiographical novel based around a flailing, boozy writer trying to capture some of the self-destructive beauty of a gambler’s life.

Twelve Grand is a mood piece; it has to be, because it covers a lot of ground. Early on, he visits a short-lived theme park built by Noel Edmonds; later he’s in Mexico and Vegas at the scenes of old sins and old affairs. You need great control of tone and form to hold elements like that together cohesively. As for the money, well he can’t get rid of it quickly enough. There’s a tremendous little scene where he buys a new suit from the backroom of a shop, and another as he lies to Rachel about the bets he’s supposedly placed. In the beautifully realised and downbeat ending, he catches perfectly the gambler’s real psyche – the one that non-punters just don’t get – when he wins big on a Lennox Lewis fight and is repulsed by the rolls of notes in his pockets. The narrative voice becomes more and more spare as his state of mind slips and splays, but you’ll be right there with him as it does.

Jon is the author of The Years of the Locust and Muscle, and is also the proprietor of the web’s finest cricket blog.

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About Author Profile: Jon Hotten

Jon writes about cricket all over the place, is the author of Muscle and The Years of the Locust and also has his own fine cricket blog called The Old Batsman.

6 thoughts on “The 1p Book Review: Jonathan Rendall – Twelve Grand

    August 11, 2010 at 14:48

    great review, makes me (a non-betting, non-sportsman) want to read the book

    – and besides, it's got to be better than Diceman, right?

    August 11, 2010 at 14:59

    God yes, Worm, about halfway through the Diceman I began to wonder if he was being paid per word. Talk about flogging an idea to death.

    Jon raises an interesting debate here, perhaps worth its own post: it’s a disgrace that you can buy it for 1p because Jonathan Rendall is an artist and 1p is no sort of a price for art.

    A good point, but is, say, £7.99 a reasonable price either?

    I should point out that Jon's own books are excellent and well worth purchasing – even though not available for 1p.

    August 11, 2010 at 17:37

    Curiously compelling review – think I'll take a punt on this one..

    August 11, 2010 at 17:49

    Could develop an interesting habit myself if I carry on like this. Not as expensive or self-destructive though.

    August 11, 2010 at 19:19

    Interesting, but did you have to mention Noel Edmonds.

    August 12, 2010 at 21:56

    Malty – it wasn't me, it was him.

    Brit, it's not really 1p tho' because they make their money by overcharging on the p+p, so essentially it's a fake price designed to make sure they're at the top of the listing when you click on it. They wouldn't sell it for that if you turned up at their door. But whatever the real price, it's a kick in the teeth if you spent a year or more writing it.

    But I take the point about price. I would be more than happy if a publisher said, 'right, we're going to sell your book in the shops for three quid, because we think that's the sort of price people will take a chance on'.

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