Thursday 7 September 2017

The Duel

So I was saying yesterday about how I was playing through an online game on a giant chess set in a campsite near Rouen.

Anyway, after the game ended abruptly and I was looking to kill a little more time, I started flicking through the contents of a bookcase and much to my surprise, I came across this.

Funny, it looks like they're using the same set as the people in the B&O Play photograph.

I got a bigger surprise when I turned over the book and looked at the blurb. I'd assumed that it was a metaphorical chess set that was being overturned on the front, but according to the back, the subject of the book is chess all right. And not just any old chess, but the Spassky-Fischer match in particular.

But the biggest surprise is that I'd never heard of the book. Never come across it at all. Which is odd, because in normal circumstances the chess community picks up on any cultural connection we can find with chess, no matter how tenuous. But this isn't tenuous, it's a novel based on the most famous event in the history of our sport. And as it's by an Icelandic author, but I was looking at it in French, it's obviously not all that obscure given that it's been translated.

I wouldn't claim to know very much about crime fiction, or for that matter to read it much, but it seems that the author is fairly prominent in his field. He talks about his chess-related book in passing here and he has had a number of his works translated into English: but not, apparently, this one. (As it happens, it's one of two Icelandic novels centring on the match published at nearly the same time.)

Which, I suppose, goes to explain why I'd never heard of it. I've looked around the internet a bit now, and I've still not come across any reference to it specifically connected with chess - that is, nothing on a chess-related site [*but this is wrong - see below - ejh] nor on a list of chess-related novels, nor anywhere except in relation to the author himself or the genre in which he apparently writes.

Still, you can read it in French, though even if I'd had time, not enough of my A-Level French has survived the 34 years since I passed that exam to give me much of a chance. It's not available in Spanish, either. But German speakers can give it a pop.

So can Italian.

And Dutch. (No chess motif!)

And Czech!

And no doubt others. But not yet, at any rate, speakers of English.

I'll look out for it.

* CORRECTION Not so! Thanks to Olimpiu for pointing out that Edward Winter has this one - see 9761 from February last year.

And I'm more wrong still, because once I search properly, for "arnaldur Indriðason" chess rather than with a d, I can locate this from Chessbase, an interview with crime novelist Hans Olav Lahlum
Among recent crime writers I can recommend a book by Arnaldur Indriðason. It was published in 2011 with the Icelandic title Einvígið and in Norway it appeared as Tvekampen meaning The Duel. The book was translated into French and German, but there seems to be no English translation yet. It is an interesting book which is set in Reykjavik 1972 and has the Fischer-Spassky match as background
and this from
The first of these is by the Icelandic crime fiction writer Arnaldur Indridason, who’s very popular in The Netherlands but, it appears, a bit less so in English-speaking countries. If you’re a crime book lover, I can highly recommend his novels featuring the enigmatic detectives Marion Briem and Erlendur Sveinsson.

When a chess player thinks about Iceland, he immediately thinks about its capital, Reykjavik, and the famous World Championship match that took place there in 1972. Indridason’s most recently translated novel, Twilight Game
[presumably this is a tranlsation into another language - Dutch? - and the translation below is the writer's own - ejh] is precisely set against the background of this ‘Match of the Century’ between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer. A murder in a cinema theatre in the centre of Reykjavik is the start of a dark plot featuring not only chess and the Americans vs. the Soviets, but also the so-called ‘Cod Wars’, a series of confrontations between England and Iceland about fishing rights in the Atlantic ocean which coincided with the match.

Iceland as described by Indridason in his novels is invariably cold, bleak and full of elusive, taciturn characters. (When I visited the country a few months ago, I was actually struck by the liveliness and open-minded attitude of the people there, but that might have been different forty years ago.) The Fischer-Spassky match plays a prominent role in the plot and acquires some of this melancholy gloom, particularly the 13th match game, won by Fischer - arguably the best game of the match.

As a matter of fact, both Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky are actual characters in Twilight Game. Here’s Fischer’s first appearance:
The door to the men’s shower opened and a tall, meager man in swimming trunks walked out. He had thin arms and a gawky appearance. He said something to the men, who smiled and listened, and walked along the edge of the swimming pool. Then he stretched his arms forward, bent through his knees and plunged in the water.

I’ve tried to search for factual errors in the book, but I couldn’t find them – Indridason clearly did his research well, getting even Fischer’s hotel room number (470) right. After reading Twilight Game, I truly felt a little bit closer to that magical match, which took place a year before I was born. In my opinion it’s a very interesting addition to the existing literature on Fischer-Spassky and therefore highly recommended.
Plus, of course, Chess History.

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