The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman

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Following rapidly on from Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife expands on the dramatic conclusion of the previous book. The actions of Lord Asriel have had huge ramificationsnot just for Lyra’s world, but a whole host of other universes as well. One of those that feels the effects is our own. The Subtle Knife opens in Oxford (the real world version, rather than Lyra’s) and follows Will, a young boy who has to deal with men who raid his home looking for something left by his missing father. When this incident ends in a violent conclusion, Will runs away to find help.

However, things take a turn for the mysterious when he finds a window to another world. Desperate, Will enter and finds himself in a city where children run freely and adults are hunted by ghostly creatures known as Spectres. While searching this new land, Will comes across Lyra and Pantalaimon. Together, the two of them embark on an adventure that sees them meet up with new friends and old foes, while moving between worlds and encountering the mysterious ‘Subtle Knife’, a weapon that can cut through virtually anything, including the gaps between worlds.

The Subtle Knife focuses on expanding the lore introduced by Northern Lights. Where the original book focused on elements like dæmons and Dust, The Subtle Knife explains how the intricacies of Lyra’s world match up with others. Will suggests that Pantalaimon is a visual form of a person’s soul. It’s fascinating to see how Pullman introduced these concepts in the first book and expands them over different worlds in the second. The focus on different worlds helps to provide the book with a fresh vibrant style. In having two main protagonists covering multiple worlds, the narrative style alters as a result. This is further impacted on by chapter following other returning characters, such as Serafina Pekkala and Lee Scoresby. All are distinctive personalities, but each of them brings something unique to the story.

This is true of Will as well. Will tends to be more cautious than Lyra, but also carries a lot of self doubt and concerns as a result of the difficult childhood he has endured. He clashes and plays off of Lyra’s more privileged upbringing, but the two come to rely on each other greatly as the book develops. I remember not liking Will’s character when I originally read the book, mainly as he seemed the opposite of the more rambunctious Lyra. However, this reading has given me a greater appreciation for the qualities that both characters share, such as their determination and desire to do the right thing. The characters do differ, but it’s those differences that helps to make their relationship so rewarding to follow.

I should also mention Mary Malone, a researcher from the ‘real world’ conducting experiments on a mysterious phenomenon. Lyra encounters her and talks to Mary about Dust, believing there may be a connection to the substance she is aware of and the one Mary researches. She’s another interesting, well developed character whose role becomes increasingly important as the true nature of Dust (or shadow particles, as Mary knows them) becomes clear. She helps guide Lyra and is a friend in an unfamiliar place for her. As for Mary’s later significance, this is something that will develop further in The Amber Spyglass.

If there is one complaint I’d have of The Subtle Knife, it’s that neither the ‘real world’ or Cittàgazze, the world where Will and Lyra meet, feel as developed as Lyra’s world. This might be inevitable, given Lyra’s world had a whole book to be developed, but we hardly glimpse outside of one city in either world. Lyra’s Oxford dissected society down to the different groups sharing the city. Neither location enjoys such analysis in this book. It’s a small negative, but one that has an impact.

It’s easy to take the success of The Subtle Knife for granted now, over twenty years after its publication, however it represented a big risk for the His Dark Materials trilogy at the time. By opening up these books to the concept of multiple worlds, the credibility built up by Northern Lights could easily have been lost. Thankfully, by creating intriguing new worlds, memorable characters and maintaining the themes that made the first book a success, The Subtle Knife successfully bridges an enthralling trilogy before arriving at a thrilling conclusion in The Amber Spyglass.

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Northern Lights – Philip Pullman

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I was around ten years old when I first tried to read Northern Lights. As one of many kids who had been caught up in Pottermania in the late 90’s/early 00’s, I devoured pretty much any book that had a fantasy setting and Northern Lights was one that I was drawn to both with it’s gorgeous cover art (still a favourite to this day) and it’s description of a world similar to our own, but with spirits and demons. I was excited at the prospect, but my young mind couldn’t grasp some of the headier concepts of the book and its focus on spiritual and religious conflict.

It wasn’t until my teenage years (still a favourite of the fantasy genre) that I gave the book another go. On a second reading I burned through Northern Lights and the rest of the His Dark Materials trilogy, gripped not just by the setting but by its colourful cast, tense and fraught plot, as well as the deeper meaning behind the story. I revisited the first book recently, partly drawn in by nostalgia but also the release of the prequel novel La Belle Sauvageas well as the news of a BBC adaptation of the book. I found that this children’s book still has plenty of appeal, even for an older audience.

Northern Lights is the tale of Lyra Belacqua, a twelve year old girl who resides in Jordan College in Oxford. Lyra’s world bears a resemblance to our own, but is a world where people have spiritual companions in the form of dæmons, a manifestation of a person’s soul. Lyra has her own dæmon, Pantalaimon, who stays by her side. One day, Lyra’s uncle, Lord Asriel visits and informs the scholars present about particles known as ‘Dust’ which are attracted to adults, as well as his belief that Dust is tied to parallel universes. Lord Asriel heads on an expedition north, in order to find out more about this mysterious phenomenon. At the same time, children are disappearing from Oxford, snatched by a mysterious group given the moniker ‘Gobblers’. Lyra finds herself leaving Jordan College after being given a device called an alethiometer, a sort of ‘golden compass’ which reveals truths to its holder. After spending time with the mysterious Mrs Coulter, Lyra ends up heading north, following her uncle’s footsteps in order to find out the truth behind Dust and the mysterious city seen in the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights has a complex storyline for what is ultimately teenage fiction. Setting to one side the nature of the fantasy world not far removed from our own, the clash between the scientific and the religious that runs throughout the novel (and the series) is a grand concept. Yet Philip Pullman doesn’t attempt to dumb down the themes of the novel, allowing the reader to disseminate the reactions of both Asriel and the Church to Dust and their conflicting views on what it represents. Reading the book now, it’s perhaps a little more apparent why my younger self struggled with Northern Lights, but I can appreciate the themes that underpin Pullman’s world now.

Of course, this is a fantasy novel and Pullman creates a vivid tapestry in his prose. We see a wide array of dæmons, witches, ‘aeronauts’ and, most strikingly of all, armoured bears who can talk and fight. The characters who aid and assist Lyra of the course of the book all help to give credence to this universe. All are complex characters with unique and interesting backstories which help to flesh out the concepts that Pullman introduces. The sight of a talking polar bear may seem a little absurd initially, but a complex, morose character like Iorek Byrnison helps dispel any scepticism quickly.

Still, a fascinating world can only go so far without a compelling protagonist to lead the way. Fortunately, Lyra fills this role perfectly. As a twelve year old who has been living in a luxurious college, it’s perhaps not too surprising that Lyra is… well a bit of brat, in all honesty. She can be rude, lies routinely and often disrespects authority. Yet she also has a childish naivety and enjoys a rough and tumble lifestyle with other children in Oxford, regardless of social standing. She isn’t a paragon of virtue, like the children from The Chronicles of Narnia, yet it’s hard to dislike Lyra or her honest intentions. The reader is drawn in through her vivid view of this unfamiliar world and how she brings people to her side.

Northern Lights was a joy to reread and a reminder of the universal appeal of these books (I’ve already finished The Subtle Knife and will soon move on to The Amber Spyglass). As a series, His Dark Materials may not have the pull of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but it certainly should be placed among them. If you’ve never had the chance to visit Lyra’s Oxford before, get a copy of Northern Lightand do it now!

The President is Missing – Bill Clinton & James Patterson

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I should probably admit now that I’m not the biggest Patterson fan. I started off reading his Michael Bennett books, about a New York detective who juggles fighting crime with looking after his ten (!) adopted kids and navigating a ‘will they, won’t they’ relationship with an Irish nanny. It was enjoyable nonsense for awhile but the annual releases and fairly ridiculous plots ended up burning me out in the end (ironically with Burn). Meanwhile Bill Clinton’s legacy, for better and worse, is well established at this point. I imagine a book like this wasn’t on his mind around this time two years ago, but can his unique insights and Patterson’s considerable experience create something memorable?

On paper it makes sense. A political thriller that’s the product of one of the most well known thriller writers and the former President of the United States? It should be the recipe for success, but it’s unlikely this will see four more years.

The President is Missing follows President Jonathan Duncan, a troubled man at the top who’s having to deal with issues both domestic and foreign. He’s facing calls for impeachment after allowing a foreign terrorist to seemingly escape, as well as unknown threat being levelled against the country as a whole. If that wasn’t enough, Duncan has to consider the possibility that someone in his team is trying to sell him out. As the novel progresses, we see the lengths that the President has to go to in order to avert disaster, save his administration and ultimately the country.

I found that President Duncan wasn’t the most intriguing protagonist I’d ever seen in a political thriller. There’s little substance to his character, with the novel giving little away beyond a cliched ‘wanting to do what’s best for the USA’ attitude. There’s no hidden steel, like House of Cards Frank or Claire Underwood. We’re given no insight into his political affiliation either. This is somewhat understandable, with a  former Democrat President coauthoring with a right wing novelist, announcing Duncan as leader of one of the two main US parties would only alienate potential readers. That being said, it’s hard to grasp what Duncan stands for beyond an idealistic vision of America. Having the insight of a former President helps in providing some insider insight not just into the mindset of a President, but also the day to day routine. There’s definitely elements to Duncan that a writer who can only imagine being President could never grasp. Unfortunately though, there’s a listlessness to this President.

The supporting cast are fairly unremarkable too, with a cavalcade of scheming politicians, dedicated White House staff, non -descript guns for hire and a main villain written in the style of a 24 baddie who gets bumped off just before reaching the halfway point of the series. The most striking character in the novel is a beautiful female assassin (is there any other kind?) who is undoubtedly a Patterson original. She’s an ace who listens to classical music while on the job, hence the very on-the-nose codename ‘Bach’. Even this character feels fairly out of place though. There’s a jarring disconnect when a chapter focused around White House protocol with Duncan transitions to the mournful musings of Bach’s troubled past. It’s at these moments that the co-authorship feels lacklustre.

The story itself is a standard thriller, with the looming danger always close and on the President’s mind. I did have a few issues with the story though. Firstly, The President is Missing may be one of the most misleading titles I’ve seen for a book. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you’re expecting the President to endure a lengthy period undercover or be the victim of a kidnapping, you’ll be disappointed. The President is Mildly Inconvenienced for a Few Hours would feel more accurate. There’s a few points where the story sags as well, with the middle of the text slowing the pace right down. Like most of Patterson’s works it’s definitely a page turner, but doesn’t quite maintain speed the whole way through.

Ultimately there’s a decent thriller in The President is Missing, but it’s lost amongst cliched twists, a less than stellar hero and unremarkable supporting cast. I don’t see re-election in the cards for President Duncan.

Six Stories – Matt Wesolowski

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It’s all too rare to find a great book by chance. A while ago, I went into my local bookshop (a recurring weakness of mine). I browsed the shelves and stumbled across Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. I was intrigued by it’s premise of a cold case brought to light by an investigative podcast, as well as being drawn in by the book’s distinctive cover. It immediately went on to my ‘to-be-read’ pile and I’ve just recently finished reading it. All I can do now is question why I didn’t read it sooner, because I absolutely loved it. A chilling mystery with a thoroughly modern premise, if you have an interest in mysteries, need something for your book club or just want to read an engaging debut from a new novelist, this is absolutely the book for you.

Six Stories is the fictional podcast that the book is set around. The podcast is hosted by amateur ‘investigator’ Scott King, who throws light on mysterious cases and unresolved events. The podcast has obvious inspirations like Serial (referenced heavily in the book) and This American Life. It provides multiple accounts of the event (the eponymous ‘six stories’) and encourages the listener to draw their own conclusions.

The case that the podcast focuses on in the book is that of Tom Jeffries, a teenage tearaway who was found dead on Scarclaw Fell, a haunting marshland in Northumberland. The body is found by Harry Saint Clement-Ramsay, the son of the wealthy landowner, who is contacted by King two decades later for an interview. The coroner’s verdict had been death by misadventure, but King wants to know if there is more to the case than first reported on. The novel takes two perspectives. The first is the podcast itself, where King speaks with six people involved with Jeffries and the case in some way, gaining their perspective on the victim and events leading up to Jeffries’s death. We also follow Harry around as he looks through Scarclaw Fell, twenty years after the grisly discovery, while also recounting what happened the night he found the body while with friends.

I should write at this point that I’m not a regular podcast listener. There are a few that I tune in to from time to time but not Serial, which has such a major impact on this novel. That being said, Six Stories goes to great lengths to mimic the style of many of the major podcasts out there and it succeeds brilliantly. From the brief intro of each episode, an excerpt of the interview for that session, to King’s narrative interludes to the listener, the whole experience of these sections feels authentic. It reminds me of one of the few podcasts I have worked through, Shittown. The reader is drip-fed bits of information about the case, small details which help to create a vivid picture of the events which would lead to disaster. Friends of Jefferies and suspects in the original case all feel unique and provided varying accounts of what the teenagers were like at the time. Wesolowski has gone to great lengths to create a narrative that feels like a genuine podcast, albeit without the constant ads for web designers and mattresses thank goodness.

In contrast, the modern day exploration of the Fell with Harry adds a creeping sense of fear and dread. The case may be cold, but the reader is shown that the ghosts are alive and well with Harry. He is plagued with guilt and fear about his discovery of the body all those years earlier. Interspersed with this jaunt is the events of the night he found the corpse. The descriptions of the boy and his friends in the Woodland Centre during a stormy, fearful night is genuinely unnerving, winding down to the grisly discovery of the body. While Scarclaw Fell may be fictional, Wesolowski draws on his local knowledge to create a dramatic wilderness, untamed and frightening to explore, yet impossible not to be drawn to. By the end of the novel, I felt I could draw a rough map of what the Fell covers from the vivid description given both by Harry and in the podcast. It’s definitely a setting that stays with the reader, a prime example of the idea of ‘writing what you know’.

The mystery itself is a satisfying one, never taking any cheap twists and allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions from what they read. Each of King’s interviewees has their own perspective and add elements to the story or contradict what has been said previously. It all leads to a dramatic conclusion which I can’t spoil here, but serves as an excellent ending that I never saw coming. The mystery genre may be well covered, but Wesolowski’s unique take on it is novel and stands out above the rest.

So are there any issues with this novel? Only very minor gripes, like a couple of grammatical flubs which unfortunately landed in the final text. There’s also a moment where a little bit too much of the truth is revealed early on, an observation by one of King’s interviewees that felt a little forced considering the conversation taking place at the time. I won’t go into too much detail, and I still did not ‘guess’ the ending, but I remember finding it unnatural at the time.

This shouldn’t diminish a masterful debut by Matt Wesolowski though. Six Stories briefs fresh life into a well trodden genre, offering a unique perspective on a chilling mystery. This is not one to miss. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read the next one. Stay tuned!

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

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Amazingly, despite Gone Girl being a huge success on release and receiving a star studded film adaptation shortly after, I’d never read the novel until recently. I enjoy a good murder mystery, but they can often fall victim to cliches and predictable twists. My concern was that Gone Girl might suffer from the same issues. Thankfully I was incorrect, and Gone Girl delivers an excellent thriller that keeps you guessing right to the end.

The story focuses on Nick & Amy Dunne, a couple who have moved from New York to Missouri, Nick’s birthplace. After losing his old job as a writer, Nick works in a bar that he and his sister opened up. Meanwhile, Amy is unemployed and documents her life in a diary. When Amy disappears, Nick contacts the police and an investigation is launched. The novel then follows two different viewpoints; Nick over the course of the investigation and Amy’s diary documenting how she met Nick and got to the situation she finds herself in just before she disappears. Initially Nick is supported by the police and his family, however the evidence mounts against Nick and his own odd behavioural traits are analysed by the media covering the story. Meanwhile, Amy’s diary shows how she got together with Nick, and how she found herself increasingly at odds with her husband over work and caring for his ageing parents.

So many mysteries come from the perspective of the investigator that this approach is very refreshing. As the reader, we see the crime from the perspective of the suspect and read about the lead up from the eyes of the victim. We gain insight into both Nick and Amy, the type of characters they are and how they have found themselves in the situation they’re in. Most mystery novels are ultimately about the detective, rather than the victim or the ‘killer’ in the book. Gone Girl twists this convention,  while also examining issues such as the media frenzy into violent crimes involving famous or beautiful people. At many times, the disappearance is treated more as a soap opera than anything else by news and chat shows in the book. It’s fascinating to see how this created by Flynn.

Of course, if you have read the novel, you know there is a major plot point which I haven’t mentioned yet. I can’t really discuss one of the main reasons I enjoy the novel so much without falling into spoiler territory so here goes.

Around halfway through the novel, Nick discovers that the disappearance has actually been an elaborate scheme by Amy to frame him for her murder. The book focuses on Amy after she has set her plan in motion and gone into hiding. She reveals that she’d created the diary as evidence to use against Nick and that the person giving her life story in the first half of the novel is not real.

I’m a big fan of the ‘unreliable narrator’ as a writing convention and this is a great example of it. We get used to the voice describing how much she loves her husband and feels able to be herself around him, making for a greater shock when we discover the psychotic and vindictive nature of Amy Dunne. We also learn more about Nick from this revelation as well. He may be innocent of the crime, but his darker inhibitions and similarities to his misogynistic father become more apparent. He gradually becomes more like the monster that Amy’s diary increasingly describes. The twist reveals just how flawed and dangerous the two of them are, and that the reader’s preconceptions about the crime and it’s victims are far from the people we thought they were.

Gone Girl ended up being vastly different from the book I thought it would be. Its intriguing mystery and vibrant main characters make for a memorable story.

Freedom – Jonathan Franzen

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The mantle of ‘Great American Novel’ is both prestigious and prized. It’s a literary tradition that stretches back to the founding of the nation, encompassing a number of works. Of course, opinions are subjective (as this blog is well aware), but conventional wisdom accepts the likes of Moby Dick, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and Rabbit, Run as just a few examples of novels that have earned the accolade. These novels often hold a deeper meaning than the surface text carries, or offers a pointed commentary about society.

I was intrigued, then, when I heard about Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Published in 2010, this another novel which received rave reviews on release, as well as endorsements from the likes of Oprah and Barack Obama. I was a big fan of Franzen’s previous novel, The Corrections, which told the story of a Midwestern family between the 1950’s and the new millennium. The novel wove a story between it’s themes regarding family relationships and the increasing political, economic and societal changes in the US during this period. While not perfect, I enjoyed the contrast between the traditional, Conservative parents and their more unorthodox children. I was eager to see if Freedom would hold up to its predecessor and was surprised by how much it both shares and deviates from the themes of The Corrections.

Freedom looks at the Berglunds, a liberally minded family living based in Minnesota. The family consists of mother Patty, father Walter, daughter Jessica and son Joey. Also focused on is Walter and Patty’s college friend Richard. Initially the family are presented as a normal, middle class family who are seen as popular in their neighbourhood. The initial chapter, ‘Good Neighbours’, shows us how people on street view the Berglunds. It’s only as time goes on that we begin to see the dysfunctions and character flaws of the family. Patty comes across as snobbish and favours her son over her daughter. Walter is repressive, always reluctant to go against his wife or his friends. Joey is rebellious and deviates from his family’s values, while Jessica is exasperated by the actions of the rest of the family. Richard, meanwhile, is a womaniser and never comfortable with the mild success he achieves as a musician.

The novel mainly focuses on the period between the 1980’s through to the time of the book’s publication, though the reader is given a glimpse into how Walter’s predecessor’s came over from Europe to the US. We’re given a look into Patty’s college life as a rising basketball star, the relationship between her, Walter and Richard and the events which lead to her marriage. Later chapters focus on how the family develops, with focus given to Joey’s relationship with childhood sweetheart Connie and his entrepreneurial efforts that anger his more liberally minded father. As the novel develops, the reader is shown how these relationships are formed, develop and break down repeatedly over time. It’s an honest account of the very human flaws that can undermine even the strongest connections.

It’s difficult to go into too much detail without spoiling the context of the novel, but the various relationships within the circle of family and friends are tested repeatedly. There’s a clear message about how easy it is to hurt the ones we love. The Berglands are tested by not just by their own relationships but events ongoing in American society at the time. Much of the novel is set in the period during and following 9/11, an event which created enormous upheaval in America and is reflected in Freedom. It impacts on the lives of both Walter and Joey, causing a hardening of their respective liberal and conservative tendencies and creating another point of conflict between the pair. Joey works to profit in some way from the conflict in Iraq while Walter moves to Washington to promote an extreme policy of conservation. Both make mistakes, leading to a genuinely poignant moment of reconciliation in the midst of their respective disasters. It does raise the question of why the relationship between Walter and Joey is most affected by the political and social change of the time though. In contrast, most of Patty’s relationship with Walter is framed through their interactions with Richard, while also disapproving of Connie. Daughter Jessica is mainly kept out of focus in the novel as well, reflecting her own desire to create an identity outside of her family, granting her some freedom from the dysfunctions of the novel.

I appreciated how Franzen returns to the themes that made The Corrections a success, while also creating a new focus in the wake of the changes in the US during the early 2000’s. Occasionally this stumbles into monologuing though, especially when focusing on Walter’s environmental crusade and Joey’s ill gotten gains during the Iraq conflict. There’s some fairly heavy handed rallying against the Bush administration and the actions of big business during the period. It’s an important context, but at times feels slightly unnatural coming from the family. Still, it’s a minor bump that doesn’t reduce the magnitude of the story. The novel’s ending feels potentially divisive too, ending on a hopeful note that feels slightly rushed given the scale of the problems the family has faced over the years. Yet it also speaks to the innate desire to belong and to be part of a family, that people can hurt each other and still want to come together in the end.

I felt that Freedom, much like The Corrections, tells an intriguing, fraught, powerful family tale across the generations. It’s definitely a slog, but worth investing the time for. I’m still not sure which novel I preferred, but both speak to the quality of Jonathan Franzen’s writing ability and his status as a great novelist.

The Illustrated History of Football & The Illustrated History of Football: Hall of Fame – David Squires

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Football tends to illicit a number of responses from people. Most simply shrug it off while questioning how a game involving twenty two men hoofing a bit of plastic up and down a pitch can generate such a maddening amount of fuss from grown adults. Then there are people like myself, for whom football represents watching your sporting heroes work with passion, break boundaries and occasionally pull off sublime feats of skill to achieve glory. It’s an opportunity to throw your whole-hearted support behind your team.

At least that’s the starry eyed opportunistic version of watching football. In truth, football is often more of slog than anything, with plenty of downsides if you aren’t a fan of one of the top teams in the country. This has been the case since football’s initial inception, though the vast amounts spent in the modern game tends to magnify tantrums from players, rants from managers and dodgy dealings throughout footballing authorities. It may be easy to look at the state of modern football and assume that it’s beyond parody. Thankfully, cartoonists like David Squires are able to offer a witty and irreverent look at ‘The Beautiful Game’.

For the uninitiated,  David Squires is a cartoonist who covers a wide variety of topics, but is best known for his weekly strip in The Guardian, poking fun at the week’s football news while often referencing other news of the week as well. It’s entertaining stuff and well worth a read if you’re a fan of the game (and if you just enjoy a good laugh):

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Over the last few years Squires has brought out two books; The Illustrated History of Football The Illustrated History of Football: Hall of Fame. I’ve read both and wanted to share my impressions of Squires’ work.

As you may guess from the titles, The Illustrated History of Football is a comprehensive look at the game. The first book focuses on a chronological look at football, starting with the game’s historical origins and works through different events, teams, grounds and players to see how football has developed over time. Looking at the formation of the Football Association, the establishment of the World Cup, teams like Brazil’s renowned squad of the 70’s and stars of the game like Pele, Maradona and Messi, the book takes a humorous tone when dealing with the crazier elements of football. It manages to toe the line when dealing with sensitive topics, such as football during the First World War, with an examination that is funny but respectful to a traumatic story.

Hall of Fame takes a closer examination of individual footballers and their impact on the game. Unsurprisingly, many of the game’s stars are featured in the book, but there’s also time for cult heroes such as Faustino Asprilla, possibly the only footballer to have scored a hat trick against Barcelona and have his own brand of condoms (so far). Squires rarely does wide eyed admiration, so even the most celebrated players will have jokes made at their expense. It’s a fun look at players who were often pioneers, adept and skillful and making their mark on the game.

Yet as brilliant as Squires humour is, he’s at his most powerful when striking a serious tone. The Illustrated History of Football contains a stirring tribute to Andrés Escobar, the Colombian footballer who was murdered after scoring an own goal which knocked the country out of the 1994 World Cup. It stands in stark contrast to the majority of the book, but is a very powerful tribute.

At their heart, both books show a love and passion for the game. Squires offers a deft understanding of the nonsense that underpins football. While not every reference lands perfectly (the second book over-relies on ‘BREXIT!’ as a joke) it’s far to say that The Illustrated History of Football offers an excellent look at the characters, passion and drama that makes football one of the best sports in the world.

Long may it continue to baffle outsiders.