BY DAVE MARPLES

The story of Manny – an eighteen-year-old who leaves the desperately poor Rio Grande Valley with one goal in mind: become a professional soccer player. He finds adventure along the way with his best friend Hector as they seek fulfillment of their dreams.

So far, so Santiago Munez from ‘Goal!’ – Danny Cannon’s implausible but rather enjoyable film. Throw in some Proper Football Men along the way, for example, a tactics obsessed Dutch coach – “Johann always smelled of smoke, and suffered from a chronic cough, yet the players never saw him smoke a cigarette” and who screams, “That is not Totaal Voetbal!” alongside a friendly Englishmen straight out of the Mister mould (“The smell of cigarette smoke and body odour assaulted his nose. Before him stood Terry Hodgson, the English manager of the Tzompantlis”) and you start to get the idea.

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Chuck in a lapse into ‘young hot naïve but likeable footballer seduced by boss’ wife’ territory – “She cried and asked for him to just hold her, which he allowed. By the time he realized what was up, she had already undone the bottom half of his dress shirt. His resistance melted at the touch of her palms” – and you may well be thinking that Turner has written with an eye on a movie-rights deal.

That would be unfair.

Part III of Turner’s novel is reminiscent of the party scene in The Great Gatsby in which Nick Carraway gets very drunk and strange things happen…or don’t. It’s difficult to say given Fitzgerald’s use of a classic unreliable narrator, exacerbated by Nick being, at this point, out of his depth and drunk as a fart. Likewise in Part III, we have a house party at which various characters get very drunk, cop off and argue. It’s a bold move on the part of Turner but certainly piques interest since at this stage, the trajectory of the protagonist seems to have run its course.

Turner’s ambition and scope grows in Part IV – a seeming stream of consciousness offering an alternative perspective from Manny’s perspective, with a nod to the denouement from James Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’.

It would be lazy to dismiss this story as the second rate distant cousin of Santiago Munez; it’s far more interesting and nuanced than that. Turner scratches at the immigration situation down where Mr. Trump proposes the building of a wall as well as the intricacies of the slippery meanings that are lost and found when translating English to Spanish and back again – a subject deliberately foregrounded by the author:

“…the last quarter of the book is basically an ode to both English and Spanish as spoken by human beings. I tried to be lyrical, and think I pulled it off in a few parts.” (As told to ‘The Open Field’, May 2016)

He has too. In a few parts, he has certainly pulled it off, especially in the thought provoking latter half of the book. Indeed, the story really only uses football as a background to explore such nuances of life that is lived out somewhere between and betwixt America and Mexico.

But again, in Turner’s own words: “To be honest, I’ve always loved the American road novel and, while living in the RGV [Rio Grande Valley], I got a pretty deep sense of just how immigration laws made in Washington can really affect and hinder and mess up the daily lives of people.” (As told to ‘The Open Field’, May 2016)

Football can be a wonderful tool to explore this thing called life and the travails, confusions and difficulties that accompany it.

The Night of the Virgin by Elliott Turner is available on Amazon HERE

DAVID MARPLES IS ON TWITTER @DavidMarples AND IS ONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF THE NEW NOTTINGHAM FOREST FANZINE BANDY AND SHINTY WHICH IS AVAILABLE HERE http://www.bandyandshinty.com/

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