DE ALFONCE TENNIS: The Superlative Game of Eccentric Champions: Its History, Accoutrements, Rules, Conduct and Regimen by J.P. Donleavy

DE ALFONCE TENNIS: The Superlative Game of Eccentric Champions: Its History, Accoutrements, Rules, Conduct and Regimen

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Donleavy's new book is quite nutty; it might have also been wonderful--but it isn't, not quite. Purporting to be the general manual for a version of tennis called De Alfonce Tennis, beloved of a snobbish elect, this metafiction begins with an historical preface that constantly threatens to be one of the funniest things Donleavy has ever written. In brief: the game was originally defined by a small gang, a baker's dozen, of swells; on the eve of Pearl Harbor these toffs took a fatal cruise on a yacht named the Hiyathere that was then mysteriously lost at sea; one of the ""Thirteen,"" however, has bequeathed to author Donleavy the secrets of the game--which he then enriches in the chance company of a ravishing heiress named Laura (and her obnoxious, spoiled friend Lord Charles) on a transatlantic sea voyage. The game itself has exacting specifications, with its ""plimsoll line,"" its ""memorial zone,"" and its ""Reeperbahns"" (side areas named for the notorious Hamburg street of whores where a sighting of the Thirteen was once reported); there are also ""culpas' (faults) and ""benes"" (goods) and ""Chukkas"" (winning games). And Donleavy never pushes the distortions beyond plausibility--packing this narrative deliciously tight with deadpan unlikelihoods, sustaining the reader's odd, half-conscious suspicion that someone might even be actually playing this game. But things go quickly tame, unfortunately, as Donleavy then proceeds to recycle his Unexpurgated Code of ten years ago: the book becomes a manners manual, concentrating on the numbing narcissism of physical fitness--with satire that's reasonably biting, likably silly, yet not inspired or savage enough to transcend the parody-genre. So, though Donleavy's farcical send-ups of snobbery always have charm as well as wit, this one settles for being an eccentric, ambivalent mixture of harmless fizz and diluted vitriol: not the fierce update of the Code that many Donleavy fans have been hoping for.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1985
Publisher: Dutton