Narrative Style: Third person – Norman features as a character in his own reporting.
Synopsis: Norman Mailer is one of many journalists invited to Kinshasa to see the Rumble in the Jungle between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman. He documents the many characters on both sides and in the process takes sports’ writing to a new level.
Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2015 – Genre: sport
I’m not entirely sure how I came to be in possession of this book but as I had been wanting to read some Norman Mailler for a while, it came into my head straightaway for this challenge. And while I don’t really watch boxing, there is no doubt that it has produced some of sports’ biggest personalities, Muhammad Ali being a case in point.
In a lot of ways, this is a psychological study, not only of Ali and Foreman but of Mailer himself. Throughout the text, Mailer refers to himself in the third person as if he is just another character in this narrative. He tries to unpick his own magical thinking and attempts to ensure that Ali will be the winner and his racial attitudes come under scrutiny as well.
The run up to the fight is described first along with the training methods of two very different men and all the attendant hangers on that they both inspired. Neither Foreman or Ali seemed particularly likeable in a straight forward sense. But then that is scarcely the point. It was whoever was braver, stronger, more arrogant that was going to win this contest and these are the traits that they both showcase.
If you didn’t know the outcome, you might not expect the winner to be Ali. This is one reason that “Norman” is so worried early in the text. Ali is curiously disinterested in the beginning while Foreman shows no fear whatsoever. In fact, I found myself questioning my knowledge of the outcome. Had I really got it right? That was until the fight itself started.
I’m not the biggest fan of boxing but Mailer’s praise made it seem a noble pursuit, almost as delicate as a dance rather than a brutal fight. Certainly, he takes sports’ journalism to a new level, to where it is poetic rather than merely descriptive. It was a joy to read the in depth account of each round. I felt like cheering when Ali eventually won whilst also feeling a great deal of sympathy for Foreman who at first seemed under the impression that he had won.
I don’t read a lot of sports’ writing but based on this, I would certainly read more of Mailer’s work.