Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical


Scarlett Thomas

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase 41-Love

Title: 41-Love
Author: Scarlett Thomas
Genre: Memoir
Written: 2021
Length: 361 pages
Availability: 41-Love - US
41-Love - UK
41-Love - Canada
  • On Addictions, Tennis, and Refusing to Grow Up

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : fine personal account

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 8/9/2021 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though her wit is entrancing, the most striking characteristic of Thomas’s narrative is its refusal to end with “what I learned” enlightenment. (...) This window into midlife desire is cathartic, amusing reading for anyone who’s wanted desperately to win." - Publishers Weekly

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Prologue of 41-Love has a now forty-one-year-old Scarlett Thomas taking her first tennis lesson since she was fourteen. She had given up the sport back then, despite showing some skill at it; now, in July 2013 she has taken it up again -- with a vengeance, as it turns out. The book proper then begins with the first tournament she enters, in December of that year.
       Thomas wins the local club's ladies' singles and if there's some hyperbole to her in-the-moment thrill at her accomplishment -- "I can't believe how happy I feel. It's definitely as good as publishing my first novel. Way better than my first kiss" -- it's already clear that she's only half joking. Her competitiveness and obsessive personality already clearly show through. Soon enough, she's decided 2014 will be her "year of tennis":

I am going to see how far I can get as a forty-one-year-old woman tennis player, and I'm going to write about it. It's my new project. My new life.
       Well into the project, she observes:
     The problem with being the hero of your own narrative is not just that you have to suffer, because that seems inevitable, but that you have to change. I am on a journey, but to where ? I know I should probably discover that it's pointless trying to find meaning in tennis, or that winning isn't that good. But winning is fucking awesome and it's all I want to do. I don't want to change; I just want to win.
       41-Love is a book of self-examination -- but much of the fun is in how Thomas, while painfully aware of how ... misguided her obsessiveness is, still goes all in, almost all the time. Tennis comes to dominate her life, to an almost ridiculous degree, offering satisfactions -- even with all the attendant frustrations -- that nothing else can.
       The physical is one part of the game, and beyond the general issue of her weight, which she's long worried about, there are now all the pains and injuries that come with doing so much physical activity. But above all, the game seems to be psychological, and Thomas is very good in describing the thoughts that creep into her mind as matches progress (and at other times), including how she undermines herself even when she's playing well. She's full of insecurity -- "I want so much for people to like me and give me trophies that I am afraid to do anything" --and it creeps into everything she does.
       There are other personal issues she's dealing with along the way too, unresolved ones from her youth, including the different father-figures in her life and an abortion; these come somewhat to the fore but mostly bubble in the background -- before everything finally comes bursting out at the end. Certainly, her tennis obsession allows her to try to bury all the other things weighing on her, including her dissatisfaction with her university job ("I have actually come to hate teaching creative writing") -- even if it ultimately doesn't offer the (impossible) escape that is surely one of her reasons for dedicating herself to tennis so determinedly.
       Thomas amusingly obsesses over improving her ranking and rating -- one of the hurdles being that there aren't that may other women playing competitive tennis in the 40-and-over category, making it difficult to accumulate the wins (and resulting points) to move up. Eventually, she enters Wimbledon -- surprisingly easy to do --, finding herself immediately in the impressive-sounding quarterfinals ("because there were not enough entries to have a round of sixteen" ...); she doesn't win, but does quite well. And the nature of the sport -- or rather, the lack of competition (or rather: competitors) -- means the points she's accumulated in a handful of matches over the year are sufficient to vault her to number 8 in the country for over-40 women -- good enough for 131st in the world rankings. And when she checks the rankings a few days later she finds:
I've gone up to number 6 in the over-40 GB rankings. How is this possible ? I literally haven't done anything. Maybe someone died, or had a birthday. Who knows how these things work ?
       Talking over her tennis-book-project with another writer -- it's part of the experience, writing about her tennis-year, justifying her obsession just a little bit more --: "We agree it'll be a better story if it goes wrong somehow". But what works in 41-Love is how it never really goes right. There are occasional triumphs, of sorts, -- and, certainly, winding up being ranked sixth in the nation sounds like an accomplishment -- but all along the way Thomas shows (just enough) self-awareness that this really isn't working out in the way she dreamed. Early on she already compared tennis to an addiction -- and warns the reader, as she hurtles down the rabbit hole:
I have no idea how deadly this will become. No idea that I am already a mouse in a lab experiment that presses its little lever for another shot of cocaine, again and again, never even eating, never doing anything else ever again.
       The crash, when it comes, is abrupt; a Postscript, four years on, summarizes the fall-out.
       It all makes for a solid, revealing journey of a bit of self-discovery, the tennis-obsession just one extreme manifestation of her obsessive personality, amusingly recounted. Thomas manages to keep the various playing and training experiences interesting enough -- no easy task, given the sameness of much of them --, and the cast of supporting characters is reasonably successful, including some very good (the mother-figure) and well-developed (her coaches and hitting partners) ones, even if the opponents are more of a blur. (There are some nice bits about the younger players -- and their parents --, an almost entirely different tennis-world from the one she mostly finds herself in, despite the occasional overlap.)
       At one point Thomas acknowledges:
Everything I do is a competition. Everything I do is a performance. Everything I do has commentary.
       So also on the tennis court; so also in this chronicle -- where her willingness to bare it all so extensively (if not entirely fully) makes for an engaging read. The contrast of the writing -- with its slightly comic edge, as she makes clear she knows how overboard she goes, in so many respects -- and her actions, where she can't help herself, taking it all so seriously in the moment, is particularly effective.
       It is all a bit much, and much of the same -- tennis, glasses of wine, insecurities coming to the fore at every turn -- but overall quite successful for what it sets out to document and do.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 February 2022

- Return to top of the page -


41-Love: Reviews: Scarlett Thomas: Other books by Scarlett Thomas under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       English author Scarlett Thomas was born in 1972.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2022 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links