A closeted gay soccer player and an injured teammate’s estranged wife offer an intimate picture of life in the lower reaches of professional British football.
Raisin (Waterline, 2011, etc.), whose first novel, God’s Own Country (2008), was shortlisted for several prizes, has twice inhabited the fictional world of the outsider and does so again with this third novel. Nineteen-year-old Tom Pearman showed promise as a Premier League junior but isn’t promoted and must settle for a fourth-division team named Town. (Be not bemused, Yank reader: Raisin keeps the sport’s arcana to a minimum.) Tom has a “quiet, solitary way” and remains largely apart from the other players, but he soon is drawn to the groundskeeper, Liam. Elsewhere, team captain Chris Easter sees his season collapse under a terrible leg injury that sends him moping to his home’s spare room, physically and emotionally distant from his wife, Leah, and young son. Leah was already feeling isolated as a football spouse, finding it difficult to socialize with other team couples. The focus is largely on Tom and Liam's affair, which is rendered with restraint and sympathy; it's a bold theme, since not a single active British footballer has come out so far. For a while, though, it is Leah’s story that seems to engage Raisin more, with its telling domestic details and an isolation for which there is no prospect of the numbing distraction in the next match. Yet neither of these parallel narratives generates much spark until a link between them and a leak to an internet fan forum stirs devastating fears in Tom and reveals the mindless prejudice and cruelty of his fellow players and fans.
This is a sensitive treatment of very different kinds of solitude and pain.