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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction


Jean-Philippe Toussaint

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To purchase Soccer

Title: Football
Author: Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 85 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Soccer - US
Football - UK
Football - Canada
Football - Canada (French)
Football - France
Fussball - Deutschland
  • French title: Football
  • UK title: Football
  • US title: Soccer
  • 'Followed by Zidane's Melancholy'
  • Translated by Shaun Whiteside

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice, slim volume of reflections grounded in and on football

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 13/5/2016 Andrew Gallix
New Statesman F 7/5/2016 Simon Kuper
TLS . 16/6/2016 Jonathan Gibbs
World Lit. Today . 3-4/2016 Warren Motte
Die Zeit . 2/4/2016 Oliver Fritsch

  From the Reviews:
  • "Football, for Toussaint, is a prelapsarian Neverland. (...) The gist of the book is contained in the closing line of the opening essay: "I am pretending to write about football, but I am writing, as always, about the passing of time."" - Andrew Gallix, Financial Times

  • "Jointly with Ashley Coleís memoir, My Defence, Football is the worst book on the sport I have ever read -- a demonstration of how not to write about it. (...) Toussaintís book is set in a vacuum, with the author as the only developed character. (...) (B)eneath the heightened prose and Shaun Whitesideís stilted translation, there is a lot of banality." - Simon Kuper, New Statesman

  • "This veers close to portentousness, and if it were rolled out over an entire book, it might well achieve it, but Toussaintís writing shows a very winning off-handedness, a willingness to underplay his hand." - Jonathan Gibbs, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Were he writing about soccer and nothing else, Football would be far less intriguing. But many other things occupy Toussaint here (.....) That is not to say that soccer is absent from this book; to the contrary, itís everywhere. But it interests Toussaint principally by virtue of the ways in which it fires his psyche." - Warren Motte, World Literature Today

  • "Wunderbar, wie sich Toussaint in scheinbar Nebensächlichem verliert, wie er sozusagen oft den direkten Weg zum Tor meidet. (...) Fußball ist eine außergewöhnliche Lektüre, nicht nur für den, dem die Standardprosa der traditionellen Fußballreportage zu den Ohren rauskommt." - Oliver Fritsch, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Football is a slim volume in which Jean-Philippe Toussaint writes about -- and beyond -- football, loosely organized and inspired by his experiences at and around the the quadrennial culmination of the sport, the World Cup, from 1998 to 2014. The Belgian author is clearly a quite dedicated fan, favoring the national side, and international competition, over club football, while his fascination seems to be greatest with the ephemerality of the experience -- the feeling of being-in-the-moment, and the experiences that are impossible to recapture (as he notes, there's little point to (re-)watching a completed match).
       Toussaint is fascinated by the immediacy of the experience, which doesn't necessarily mean physical presence, and by the spectator-experience as much as anything that happens on the pitch. Among the experiences he relates are of watching a World Cup via 'live stream' (on the internet) and, when he is in Japan in 2002, trying to catch the end of the Japan-Turkey clash when it clashes with a poorly scheduled lecture he gives; he winds up able to follow just the end of the match on radio, where of course he barely understands any of the Japanese commentating:

My senses on the alert, I read with unease the expressions on the faces of the students, while my ears, pricked like a cat's, listened out for danger or promises of a goal, trying to interpret the variations in intensity of the commentator's voice, which went from a regular purr during the midfield phases of the game to a rapid crescendo at the approach of goals by the opposing team, to the brief fit of hysteria, close to apoplexy, to the moment of the cross and the generally failed attempt at a volley.
       He sees several matches in person, but is more focused on his own and others' behavior in the crowd in reaction to the experience, that any details of what is actually happening on the field: Football barely concerns itself with the beauty of the beautiful game (taking it more or less as a given).
       Toussaint isn't interested in exploring the bigger picture, or writing about the sport per se either:
As a citizen I am happy to raise a worried eyebrow over violence in the stadiums, racism, homophobia hooliganism, I am happy to be shocked by the sums paid for transfers and the exorbitant salaries of the players, but I will not devote more than a parenthesis to them (oof, tired already -- end of parenthesis).
       Toussaint's is a very personal sports-book, almost entirely focused on his own experience and reflections. Deep down, Toussaint seems very much like a more or less typical fan, easily carried away in the moment -- but presenting this picture of typical fandom is only of limited interest to him. Instead, he approaches the subject(s) -- football, himself -- in his own familiar (from his fiction) fashion, paying attention to what might seem to be secondary details, placing the sport and his enjoyment of it in its larger (personal) contexts. It is not your usual football-appreciation book, but then it's hardly meant to be that; it's more an account of the football-slice of Toussaint's life -- touching on it, especially every four years with the World Cup, but to different degrees of immersion and interest as he grows older and circumstance change.
       Some authors, in writing about their fascination with sport, write books that can stand separately from their œuvre; Football is very much of a piece with Toussaint's, for better and worse (entirely the better, his fans will say, but those coming to the book based solely on its title might be of a different opinion).
       Football comes with a warning at the opening, that:
This is a book that no one will like, not intellectuals, who aren't interested in football, or football lovers, who will find it too intellectual.
       But Toussaint seems to be selling his work -- and his readers -- short; both kinds of readers (as well as surely the many in between -- surely, e.g. quite a few so-called intellectuals derive some enjoyment from, and have some interest in football ...) can get something out of it -- if they're open to Toussaint's very open approach.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 June 2016

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Football: Reviews: Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Other books by Jean-Philippe Toussaint under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jean-Philippe Toussaint was born in Brussels in 1957.

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