19 thoughts on “GAMBLE by Kerry Hadley-Pryce

  1. Pages 1 – 9

    “It was all just a jumble of words to Gamble.”

    To risk that same wager upon meaning.
    The language — here describing things from within Greg Gamble, a fifty something secondary school teacher beset by Ofsted, etc. with a wife, and his daughter at the same school — is for me deceptively and satisfyingly full of literary traction, despite its disarming simplicity within each abrupt closing of spaces between commas, and he somehow reaches a sort of abrupt passing coma himself at the start of the school week’s busy corridor of sound and sense.

    Just the act of watching through his eyes ordinary things — like the girl visiting in a van across his drive — reaches extraordinary parts of the reading mind. From corridor to canal, that extraordinariness might be because I have myself been on a narrow boat, through the Wolverhampton locks on a flood-threatening rainy day back in the 1980s, and along the Stourbridge Canal, too. We shall see. But no spoilers upon each real-time wielding of my windlass.

  2. Pages 9 – 20

    Separate words, all comma-ed between, as if each the ‘moment’ of fuller risked meaning. Yet I feel deceptively strung along on more tentacular longer clauses, as if driving a car with the inability to turn around except at a winding-hole, then on a road growing narrower, all in a sort of slowed motion, drinking while driving a car (as some often do when tillering on canals), not already drunk and then driving, but drinking alcohol WHILE driving. I watch through Gamble’s eyes, the words instilling such empathic feelings without exactly saying so, a blend of self-consciousness bordering on paranoia, anxiety, a glitch in the brain somehow slipped into a new slower gear while every moment slips by fast on another level beyond the depths where one is steering. We see, through or with him, an ex-pupil girl in a shop as shopkeeper and later the girl in the previous van that features now with her off-putting male driver. We reluctantly see such girls through his eyes, but impelled to do so. Some sort of present real-time in a preterite tense toward a dreaded gestalt. I will try not to adumbrate too closely the forthcoming plot, for fear of spoilers. Stumbling on something I do not wish you to stumble on. But be warned, the risk will remain, as predicted by the name of the eponymous ‘hero’. Further review entries will hopefully be shorter than this one. Rapeseed, repressed. Olfactory projection of cucumber and vanilla. From my windlass to his windscreen, “, slow was too slow and fast was too fast,” and much more.

  3. Pages 20 – 35

    “— see the lock — the locks —“

    I feel as if I am one of many gongoozlers on the towpath watching the narrative locks and the changing depths between. And “the semantic importance.” Synaesthesia, too. Watching the complexity of meticulous patterns in Gamble’s thoughts and actions, including the house opposite his own house, the reflective canal, the migrating birds, the arrival back home of his wife during this absence from work, plus the photographs and other items in his own house … the gap in the net curtains perhaps matching the apparent gap in one of the photographs between people’s feet and the ground. And smell of lavender and a colour called ‘mystic apricot.’

  4. Pages 35 – 48

    “, it doesn’t matter about colours or smells or such things. It just doesn’t.”

    But they do, I say; here, “the smell of raw chives”. Meanwhile, we continue to have the misfortune of seeing ‘girls’ via Gamble — arguably by means of his poetic-adapted words recast as third person narration (he is a sad would-be poet, his daughter Isabelle implies) — ‘girls’, viz. his wife Carolyn and his own maturing schoolgirl daughter and a suggestive erstwhile fling called Hannah (his ex-pupil.) I use the term ‘misfortune’ advisedly, though it depends on what the nature of the reader is, I guess, exactly what I imply by that word. We also have what I earlier predictively referred to as ‘gongoozlers’ at the canal side, now with “blind expressions, pale.” Plus “the irrationality of the pattern on the carpet.” That observation means a lot to me, as do some others too numerous to quote here. This book continues to develop in my mind with some accretive awareness of matters transpiring – and their predictive power.

    “Not. Yet.”

  5. FFEC0C50-72EA-4BA8-AE4F-F1B6622F4CE8Pages 48 – 56

    “— I am a man. I am a man. It was a mantra, it had become one.”

    Me, too. Yet I decline to identify with Gamble, particularly the cigarette ends in the ashtray, and the way he sees certain things (even if our eyes see the same things) – although parts of me do echo parts of him. The split in coping and not coping, for example. And the sense of duty and guilt. And the synaesthesia. The smell on one’s body after a hot night. Other smells and tastes. These pages contain more of them! The memory, meanwhile of a backstory by the canal is Gamble’s alone. I am mere gongoozler. An event beside a willow or is it an oak? My long-seasoned Yieldingtree seems appropriate to reproduce alongside. Earlier in this book I remember I somehow mistook the word ‘canal’ for ‘carnal’. In fact I wrote that thought down for my review but then deleted it among some other things, as I thought I was becoming too verbose! Now that memory comes in full evocation to my mind.

  6. Pages 56 – 67

    “Gamble tends to tell you things as he remembers them, but out of order, out of time.”

    …with the words, like those in this real-time review, “running away with him, as if he was floating, just a little, above, them,…” I am forced more and more to identify with Gamble; he has a daughter, so do I, (grown up now), a wife who has a thing about cleaning the shower, so do I. But “performing a marriage.” And – “Look what she’s ended up with, he thought: me.” Provocative, but recognisable, thoughts to have. But I hope to keep my powder dry. I do not have memory of a Hannah in my life, you see. Not one that actually happened. Too late now, anyway. Thankfully.
    But this is a fiction. I pick myself up and shake myself down. No window opposite with a near naked girl in it opening its Venetian blind. No voyeur, either, in the window opposite that window opposite. Nor is my name Gamble, a name with its meaning beyond the person it names.

  7. Pages 67 – 79

    “There was a pause, not even worthy of a comma,”

    “…as if, carved in tree trunks over there, there were faces, or bodies, fixed and distant and naked.”

    And a car that is “full of cross-purposes” – like steering a narrow boat? Only going one way till reaching a winding-hole, and steering against the way you want the calculated drift to take you. (See some of my previous recent reviews regarding the concept of ‘calculated drift.’) Later or earlier, a poem he wrote, four years ago, he then at that time tears out of his notebook and actually makes into a gift to the one material to his sense of duty and guilt, but as a token of what? An endlessly resonating objective-correlative like the canal itself? Also, “, mushrooming into something, someone different, despite himself.” This is a tale not necessarily of synaesthesia alone, but something unique in literature perhaps, something I shall tentatively call sin-aesthesia. Mixed with male panache. All such rambling thoughts of mine later halted and re-focussed by my recognition of a change in POV on the last page of this section of pages: Isabelle and the canal in poetic interface. The shells, notwithstanding.

  8. “What is now proved was once only imagined.”
    WILLIAM BLAKE, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

    Pages 80 – 94

    “‘Greg’, she said. ‘You want to live in the Black Country all your life?’”

    The potential of spoiling this plot increases, as perceived events develop in the past as well as in later real-time. The house opposite – and the girl/woman there – promises to take on more significance, but that is currently almost a minor consideration when compared to what was – and is – going on in Greg Gamble’s nuclear family, along with Carolyn and Isabelle. Smells, some more trivial or domestic, like damp and Carolyn’s wish to redecorate, the smell of ‘pot’ from his earlier life, the word ‘pot’ being tussled over like poetry, and separate Proustian selves (thoughts of his youthful reading of Blake), but the smells of the canal area seem more intrinsic. “The smell that sap makes when it’s bleeding from a branch.” The house opposite, though, he had not properly noticed before. And that house’s discovered name a hint of some Gothic implications? A car struggling in reverse gear. Gamble’s perceptions of his own life, as well as of nature and Gaia, are “like modern art”, too, I reckon.

  9. Pages 95 – 110

    “It could, everything about this situation he was in, he knew, take him to an intensely uncareful place indeed.”

    I know the feeling, reading this today. Poking at scuffed demons. Dislocated possibly back into some sixties student bedsit in the house opposite, with other implications important to this book. “…as if he might be an unexploded bomb, or an alien.” I feel I am in a version of REPORT ON PROBABILITY ‘A’ (my review here) or prose by Samuel Beckett plus intangible anti-novel elements. Even Aickman? Captivated, nay, captured by it in tranches of Gamble’s backstory and present real-time, as he seeks to unfester a secret to his wife. We all know how secrets fester, don’t we? More gongoozlers canalside; this book has created a previously unrecognised sort of human being that lurks down there? Like Gamble, I hate pets. Another unfestered secret. Every gamble has its price. And every price has its gamble. “It looks like a killing cone. It does.”

  10. Pages 110 – 134

    “He was being careful, making the uncareful much worse.”

    This insinuating prose is also often ‘uncareful’ – in a good way. This review, too, I hope. From the lipstick shoplifted to “the lipstick dried into darkish clumps…” The lipstick he consciously later takes and uses as his own objective-correlative for this narration-at-one-remove, something he does not understand why he did. And there is the ‘being a parent’ section laid out for us, having been parents, perhaps, like me. The ‘parental tics’, the making of the child that then maketh the man, as, from my memory, Wordsworth once put it. Life, aspiring to make itself ‘a beautiful work of art.’ The girls or women in Gamble’s gamble or jumble of a life possibly blending in and out with each other, against the canal’s backdrop and alongside other gongoozlers. (I once had a story entitled ‘Down by the Fast Canal’ published in ‘Vollmond’ in 1990). Why did I put that in brackets? The ‘climate change’ in his relationship with Isabelle: her sullen, even unsocial, teenage change of behaviour. The use of poetry in parentry. The staff room at school “an echo chamber of past chat.” The syndrome of “it was him but it wasn’t.” Events and time vanishing or not happening at all; the reading of his mind, by the girl in the house opposite, with the word “Retro.” “She was a cat.” The earlier dysfunctional car journey when driving his daughter, a new fast canal of mind and (or over?) matter?

    “And maybe she was waving. And the footsteps were quick, down to the canal.”

  11. Now I must make amends
    And try to correlate event with instinct
    And me with you or you with you with all,
    No longer think of time as a waterfall
    Abstracted from a river.
    ― Louis MacNeice

    God or whatever means the Good
    Be praised that time can stop like this,
    That what the heart has understood
    Can verify in the body’s peace
    God or whatever means the Good.
    — Louis MacNeice

    Pages 134 – 152

    “And right there, he could see the deepest tracks of things, he could see the younger him, yes, but he could see Isabelle, too, underneath it all, the truculence of her, and yes, that uncarefulness of her.”

    In that way he pieces her together, as he wished earlier. As I wish to do with all books. But this book somehow seems itself uncareful with meaning, while heady with poetry. A sort of spread out soliloquy by Shakespeare, triangulated, trunculated as it were, by collaborators of us readers with the characters that make up this whole Gamble. Throwing a dice to see what is God, what is good. What is self, what are others. We have now learnt the name of the girl opposite as well as of the house where she is staying behind Venetian blinds thus opposite. That ultimate “sleight” this book strives to express. The gaps in what the book says, in what the blinds say. Damp pornography trodden into the towpath. Mushrooming, again. Beneath the skin like a worrying lump. “, underneath it all.” I’ve been there, done it, got the T shirt, had the rabbit stew. A book review like a spread out soliloquy, too? Abstracted from a canal, not a river nor even a stream of consciousness.

    “He needed an explanation mark. Something. Not this, not that.”

  12. Pages 152 – 164


    “Maybe not good, exactly, but some part of the identity of ‘good’. He can’t explain it.”

    Not ‘Report on Probability “A”’, after all, as I earlier suggested, but this clinching scene with Maria (?), I guess, is Probability ‘I’, the one that follows ‘Aitch’, more of a sort of space exploration with alien dangers and other pitfalls of feeling one’s way in such a terrain (Aitch himself being just one alien who hovers at the side?) rather than a sex scene, as such, although it may be both. A sex scene as “an outcrop of each other.” Also that ‘I’ is not only the first person singular pronoun but also: “We’re a team, Carolyn and I. We still are. And I’ve lived like this this – we have – for years now. And there’s Isabelle, and there’s…” as another ‘I’. He looked at her one eye at a time. Surprised she was smoking a cigarette. Porcelain doll, also hinted in her demeanour. A report on a balance of probabilities to ensue?

    “In that light, her body, he saw, was surprising. More like a child’s than he thought it would be.”

  13. Pages 164 – 181 (end)

    “He’ll say now that it wasn’t that he felt guilty.”

    The book’s, for me, perfect coda, poignant and probably meaningful. From the “dampish mushrooms” in the fridge to a dream of “a woman or a girl” wading in the Stourbridge canal. The “over-optimism of the shops, that is, in any circumstances, intensely sad.”
    This book is, if nothing else, intense. Disarmingly so. A book that has taken me by the scruff of my own scuffed gestalt. In the previous set of pages we had “Something and nothing.” And the book itself ends with “And that’s something.” Not a spoiler, how can it be? A “whole minute click past. / ‘Tox screen shows up…’”

    “her goodness, the goodness of her,”

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