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The Divers' Game

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From the inimitable mind of award-winning author Jesse Ball, a novel about an unsettlingly familiar society that has renounced the concept of equality—and the devastating consequences of unmitigated power The old-fashioned struggle for fairness has finally been abandoned. It was a misguided endeavor. The world is divided into two groups, pats and quads. The pats may kill From the inimitable mind of award-winning author Jesse Ball, a novel about an unsettlingly familiar society that has renounced the concept of equality—and the devastating consequences of unmitigated power The old-fashioned struggle for fairness has finally been abandoned. It was a misguided endeavor. The world is divided into two groups, pats and quads. The pats may kill the quads as they like, and do. The quads have no recourse but to continue with their lives. The Divers’ Game is a thinly veiled description of our society, an extreme case that demonstrates a truth: we must change or our world will collapse. What is the effect of constant fear on a life, or on a culture? The Divers’ Game explores the consequences of violence through two festivals, and through the dramatic and excruciating examination of a woman’s final moments. Brilliantly constructed and achingly tender, The Divers’ Game shatters the notion of common decency as the binding agent between individuals, forcing us to consider whether compassion is intrinsic to the human experience. With his signature empathy and ingenuity, Jesse Ball’s latest work solidifies his reputation as one of contemporary fiction’s most mesmerizing talents.


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From the inimitable mind of award-winning author Jesse Ball, a novel about an unsettlingly familiar society that has renounced the concept of equality—and the devastating consequences of unmitigated power The old-fashioned struggle for fairness has finally been abandoned. It was a misguided endeavor. The world is divided into two groups, pats and quads. The pats may kill From the inimitable mind of award-winning author Jesse Ball, a novel about an unsettlingly familiar society that has renounced the concept of equality—and the devastating consequences of unmitigated power The old-fashioned struggle for fairness has finally been abandoned. It was a misguided endeavor. The world is divided into two groups, pats and quads. The pats may kill the quads as they like, and do. The quads have no recourse but to continue with their lives. The Divers’ Game is a thinly veiled description of our society, an extreme case that demonstrates a truth: we must change or our world will collapse. What is the effect of constant fear on a life, or on a culture? The Divers’ Game explores the consequences of violence through two festivals, and through the dramatic and excruciating examination of a woman’s final moments. Brilliantly constructed and achingly tender, The Divers’ Game shatters the notion of common decency as the binding agent between individuals, forcing us to consider whether compassion is intrinsic to the human experience. With his signature empathy and ingenuity, Jesse Ball’s latest work solidifies his reputation as one of contemporary fiction’s most mesmerizing talents.

30 review for The Divers' Game

  1. 4 out of 5

    Meike

    If Jesse Ball's mind was an actual place, I'd love to travel there: I'm sure it would be spellbinding and full of weird surprises, riveting, strange and disturbing. No one writes about human cruelty and its consequences like this guy, and no one employs the enlightening power the perspective of a kid can provide - far away from any cheap kitsch - like the winner of last year's Gordon Burn Prize (for Census, a tribute to his dead brother). To write like this, you have to have deep moral If Jesse Ball's mind was an actual place, I'd love to travel there: I'm sure it would be spellbinding and full of weird surprises, riveting, strange and disturbing. No one writes about human cruelty and its consequences like this guy, and no one employs the enlightening power the perspective of a kid can provide - far away from any cheap kitsch - like the winner of last year's Gordon Burn Prize (for Census, a tribute to his dead brother). To write like this, you have to have deep moral convictions, a sprawling imagination and the talent to turn this into intense, affecting prose; as a reader, you need to be willing to put on your hiking boots and bring your compass in order to venture into the overgrown jungle at the heart of a remote narrative island, because Ball's books are no beach reads. "The Divers' Game" is a novel in three parts. In the first one, we meet two kids living in a dystopian society that openly accepts and cements inequality, justifying this with arguments that rely on fear, ignorance and ideas of superiority. The people living in the lawless quarters outside the city, most of them refugees, are declared to be less-than-human, and every kid is taught how to gas them if one of them crosses their path and disobeys or is perceived as somehow dangerous: It has no legal consequences to immobilize or even painfully kill them with gas (the people in the city are carrying gas and gas masks at all times). Together with their alcoholic teacher, the kids want to visit the zoo, and they are ultimately separated to experience two different areas where living/dead creatures are caged. In the second part, we meet kids living in Row House, one of the lawless "quads" outside the city, especially a young girl chosen to be the center of an enigmatic ritual that revolves around the limitless execution of personal power and the orgiastic experience of being part of a mob: "It was the cry of the punished that there should be more - more punishment - more cruelty - more hate. (...) the world was always so much that the revelers had to flinch away, had to retire from feeling, and feel not what was before them but instead what they had felt, what they might feel." This ritual mirrors another one in the first part of the book that is feared by the people in the city because it revolves around the establishment of equality: As you see, Ball is playing with reversals and trick mirrors - also watch out for a character named "Lambert Ma", who for some is a hero, for others a terrorist. In addition to that, we learn about the eponymous "divers' game" that the kids in the quad like to play. I won't explain the game in order not to spoil it, but I can say that it's about belonging and the dangerous attempt to overcome separation (pay attention that it only works in one direction!), thus being relevant to the whole book. The third part is a letter written by the teacher's wife shortly before her death, and it contemplates the price an individual soul might pay for being cruel and when "instead of fairness, there is just order and its consequences". What I love about Jesse Ball is how lyrical his prose is, his daring creative ideas and how he does not feel the need to destroy the power of his strong, haunting images by over-explaining them. Rather, he trusts in his readers' abilities to appreciate the sheer beauty of his art and the iridescent associations he evokes. This is a writer tackling very serious topics while proving that smart content and gorgeous writing can easily go together, and I hope he will go on winning some prizes for this stunning novel.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marchpane

    With simple, direct prose, The Divers' Game reads like a dark fable, or perhaps a folktale beamed backwards through time from a distant future. It's a dystopian other-worldly setting, in which our present civilisation has passed out of living memory; where "zoos" are more like museums of extinction, and citizens arm themselves with canisters of brightly coloured gas to be deployed with lethal force against the immigrant classes, at the slightest affront. The novel comprises four short set pieces With simple, direct prose, The Divers' Game reads like a dark fable, or perhaps a folktale beamed backwards through time from a distant future. It's a dystopian other-worldly setting, in which our present civilisation has passed out of living memory; where "zoos" are more like museums of extinction, and citizens arm themselves with canisters of brightly coloured gas to be deployed with lethal force against the immigrant classes, at the slightest affront. The novel comprises four short set pieces — somewhere between short story and novella length — each with a different set of characters. Linked through their shared invented world, as well as in smaller, subtler ways, these pieces have a fever dream strangeness and a brooding tension. Ball has written a striking parable of xenophobia, our capacity for violence, the human instinct to form in-groups and 'others', whether it be on a grand scale or a minute one, and what happens when that instinct goes unchecked. With economy of style and clarity of purpose, The Divers' Game is a thoughtful gem.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    I've seen reviews which discuss this as a future dystopia but for me it's a veiled fable about now. Ball offers up a world divided and ghettoised, where the 'haves' can kill at will, where the 'have nots' (specifically refugees and criminals released from prison) are non-persons without legal rights. It's a world that lacks compassion and empathy, where language has been redefined so that the culture can embrace violence while still calling itself non-violent, where fear and insult are common I've seen reviews which discuss this as a future dystopia but for me it's a veiled fable about now. Ball offers up a world divided and ghettoised, where the 'haves' can kill at will, where the 'have nots' (specifically refugees and criminals released from prison) are non-persons without legal rights. It's a world that lacks compassion and empathy, where language has been redefined so that the culture can embrace violence while still calling itself non-violent, where fear and insult are common currency. It's no coincidence that a character is named Lethe, the river in the classical underworld from which the newly-dead drink to forget what living was like. How far is this, conceptually, from Trump's U.S. or Brexit Britain where statesmen have normalised bullying, bluster, and boasting, where sexual assault or disabilities can be mocked publicly, where hatred has become legitimized whether for reasons of race, gender, sexuality, class or any other divisive marker? There's a horrible recognition at the heart of Ball's world. For all that, the final and most powerful section for me is both despairing and hopeful as a woman who has killed finds that she is sickened by her own action, by what she has done, by what she is and how society has shaped her. Her resistance is both annihilating and, I think, redemptive, if only in a minor, individual way. Stark prose, pressing politics and a desire to shock us into moral confrontation makes this an urgent, unnerving read. Many thanks to Granta for an ARC via NetGalley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    The best dystopian novels pick the themes of their time, extend them into the future and present the reader with an all too plausible nightmare society. Imagine a society with a refugee crisis. Then imagine a society that responds to that refugee crisis not by rejecting the refugees but by allowing them to stay as long as they are physically marked so that everyone knows who belongs and who does not. Imagine then that these “others” in society are stigmatised and often subject to violence. The best dystopian novels pick the themes of their time, extend them into the future and present the reader with an all too plausible nightmare society. Imagine a society with a refugee crisis. Then imagine a society that responds to that refugee crisis not by rejecting the refugees but by allowing them to stay as long as they are physically marked so that everyone knows who belongs and who does not. Imagine then that these “others” in society are stigmatised and often subject to violence. Imagine that the solution to that is not to stop the violence but to redefine the word “violence” so that it does not include acts performed against the “quads” as they are known (because they live in special lawless and walled in areas called quads and only leave at their own risk). The “pats” as the residents of the land are called carry canisters of gas and gas masks so that they are equipped to deal with any quad who approaches and looks vaguely threatening (with no threat of repercussions). Welcome to Jesse Ball’s future world. But Jesse Ball is not one to tell a straightforward story. That would be far too simple. Ball presents us with three stories and he works by “impressionism” rather than by telling. It is for the reader to puzzle over the underlying themes and links. Two girls attend a school where they are taught about their society (they are pats) and then taken to a zoo by a teacher with a drink problem. One girl goes in, the other stays outside. Both experience an adventure. This part of society is heading towards Ogias’ Day. If you know your Christian Old Testament, Ogias’ Day is like the Jubilee without the godly parts - cancellation of debts, establishment of equality and more. Then a young girl is selected to be the centre of a communal ceremony in one of the quads. She is given free rein - whatever she commands will happen as she tours the area and the mob mentality rises. Where the ceremony of the first part sought equality, and was feared by many because of that, here the ceremony creates a complete inequality - a young girl has absolute power - and is feared by many because of that. We learn about the titular Divers’ Game which explores the connection between two local lakes and, as it does so, explores what it means to belong and the lengths people will go to in order to feel part of the in crowd. Finally, a woman writes a letter to her husband. It is for the reader to work out who the woman is and I won’t spoil the book by saying what the letter is about, but the woman is concerned about the consequences of cruelty for the life of the person being cruel. This, then, is a book to discuss with others. What are the connections? Are there connections? Are the connections underneath rather than visible on the surface (the title and the game might be a clue)? Are the connections thematic rather than plot (hint: there is no overall plot, really). I write this at the stage where I have only just begin to make those connections and I know I have work ahead of me (which I hope will be assisted by other readers as I get chance to discuss the book). I love that Jesse Ball doesn’t write about a dystopia where refugees have been rejected and walls have been built to keep them out. I love that he turns things on their head and writes about a dystopia where the refugees are allowed to remain and his logical extension is to a society that marks those who don’t belong and removes penalties for harm done to them.mI love that he then presents us with several different stories about this dystopian world but doesn’t feel the need to explain it all. This is similar to my favourite kind of artwork that presents the viewer with an abstract, impressionistic image, or several images, but leaves it for the viewer to interpret. You have to be Jesse Ball to be able to imagine the world he creates. You probably have to be Jesse Ball to understand how it all links together, but there is sufficient thematic connection made to mean that the reader puts the book down knowing that they will be thinking about it for many days to come. Like the subterranean connections within the novel, this book lays the groundwork for some subconscious connections in the readers’ mind, the kind of thing that is likely to wake you up in the night thinking about it as pieces join together. As an aside, having just finished a re-read of Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, how awesome would an evening called “Deborah Levy and Jesse Ball: In Conversation” be? My thanks to Granta Publications for an ARC via NetGalley.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Thought provoking and in your face. Jesse Ball is everything “What kind of suicide is it to kill in the world what you find in yourself?” Thought provoking and in your face. Jesse Ball is everything 🖤 “What kind of suicide is it to kill in the world what you find in yourself?”

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    The Divers' Game is the latest novel from Jesse Ball, the 4th of his I have read, and someone who is fast emerging as one of our most interesting modern-day writers. It looks like it’s about a very violent society that pretends it isn’t violent at all. It smells like licorice left in a hole. Source: A hyena who searched Jesse Ball's house in 2018 and found the draft of this novel (https://therumpus.net/2018/03/the-rum...) He said, we can welcome them, as long as we can tell them apart. As long as we The Divers' Game is the latest novel from Jesse Ball, the 4th of his I have read, and someone who is fast emerging as one of our most interesting modern-day writers. It looks like it’s about a very violent society that pretends it isn’t violent at all. It smells like licorice left in a hole. Source: A hyena who searched Jesse Ball's house in 2018 and found the draft of this novel (https://therumpus.net/2018/03/the-rum...) He said, we can welcome them, as long as we can tell them apart. As long as we can tell them apart. Many of them, wherever they were from, they had red hats, a kind of long knit hat, a red hat, no one remembers why, and so Garing said, This will be their symbol. We’ll tattoo the red hat on their cheeks, and then we’ll know who is who. Then we can welcome them. This novel gives us a a dystopian set-up but one that draws, as Graham's review (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) points out, on Nazi-era ghettos, with immigrants (and increasingly also criminals) in theory, allowed to live in the host country, but in practice physically branded, and legally non-persons, such that violence towards them from ordinary citizens is not considered legally, and increasingly not even morally, wrong: Our morality is what we do. Do you all understand that? But if what we do ceases to be violence , let us say it is the same, but it is no longer violence: then we are not violent; we are no longer doers of violence. Despite the more historical set-up this reference to the pernicious effect of normalisation of behaviour is highly pertinent to our times (gun crime in the US would be one parallel). And in fact the author himself argues that to see this as a dystopia is to misread it (interview from Paris Review linked below)I don’t believe it is a dystopia. Dystopian novels are pleasant distractions for the beach, for the most part, with lithe protagonists and evil. This is not that at all. Instead it is a short speech about violence—real violence that I have observed in the past forty-one years. It is a parable about that; it’s a parable but there is no lesson.The initial set-up is (over-)explained in a rather clunky set-up, literally in a lecture. But the novel comes in to its own after the characters escape the lecture hall and we experience other key elements of the society, both the rather terrifying Day of the Infanta amongst the non-people, and amongst the citizens, Ogias' Day, declared, seemingly at very short notice only a fee days earlier, for the first time in over 50 years, a sort of comprehensive Jubilee, although no-one quite seems to know what will happen: He said he heard on the last Ogias’ Day a lot of people died. Everything turns upside down. Freedom surprises people—they don’t know what to do with it. People who have been paying back debts for decades—and then the debt is just gone! It makes them crazy, especially if they know other people who did fuck all with their debts. And everyone’s in the same boat? What is that? You could see why people would be mad. Are you saying you think it’s a bad idea? No, no. I mean, I owe some. I’ve run it up pretty badly. You know, this job doesn’t pay much. I’m glad for it to stop. I don’t owe anything, she said. I still live at home ... I heard, she said, that it isn’t just debt. It’s all bonds. So after tomorrow, no one is married. You’d have to get remarried. You have to reacquire your job. Everything’s started over. It’s a complete restart. They have to explain all this. That’s why everyone has to go to the announcement points. Can’t be true. I never heard any of that. My brother says, he says Ogias’ Day isn’t for us anyway. It’s more for people like you, people who own things. It’s a holiday to keep you owning the things you own. (interesting parallels to the political discussion on both sides of the Atlantic about writing off student debt, but also to whether radical reform is really about the preservation of the existing system) The last section gives the novel a powerful close as we get the suicide note of the lecturer's wife (we learned in the first section that she killed herself using the gas citizens are given to defend themselves against non-persons), her actions triggered by what she, and her society, had become: There is a permanent sickness in my stomach. It is a revulsion and it is a disgust, and it is a disgust at who I am and have been— who you are— who we are together— who everyone together becomes in this day and age. Recommended (although not Ball's best work) - and how The Wall made the Booker longlist, and this didn't is a mystery (but then how The Wall made the Booker longlist is a mystery in any case). 3.5 stars as it isn't Ball's strongest work and readers would be better starting elsewhere. And there is a wonderful interview here between two of my favourite writers - Ball and the brilliant Patty Yumi Cottrell: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2... Thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for the ARC.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    I loved Census and How to Set a Fire and Why, so I had high hopes for this. Like Census, it's heavy on the metaphors - a future society in which refugees are explicitly treated as non-human and the insidious but plausible ways that approach poisons our very humanity. It's powerful conceptually, but I missed the heart of Ball's earlier books - the characters felt more like pawns he was moving around to make his points than real, complex people. It's a quick and at times horrifying read - it's I loved Census and How to Set a Fire and Why, so I had high hopes for this. Like Census, it's heavy on the metaphors - a future society in which refugees are explicitly treated as non-human and the insidious but plausible ways that approach poisons our very humanity. It's powerful conceptually, but I missed the heart of Ball's earlier books - the characters felt more like pawns he was moving around to make his points than real, complex people. It's a quick and at times horrifying read - it's probably worth your time, but it fell a tiny bit short of my high expectations.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    Dive down. You just dive down and find the hole, then it starts. I mean you crawl. For one pond to the other. The divers’ game. the part where you pull yourself into the hole is the worst. Because from there you just have to go on. You have to trust that the tunnel’s the same [as it was last time] This book tends to be reviewed as set in a near-future dystopia, one which imagines a societal approach to mass immigration (and to undesirables) that seems only a logical extension of current Dive down. You just dive down and find the hole, then it starts. I mean you crawl. For one pond to the other. The divers’ game. the part where you pull yourself into the hole is the worst. Because from there you just have to go on. You have to trust that the tunnel’s the same [as it was last time] This book tends to be reviewed as set in a near-future dystopia, one which imagines a societal approach to mass immigration (and to undesirables) that seems only a logical extension of current trends. I would add though that it is really also a very lightly imagined variation on past practices – and lacks the real imagination of say an Exit West, even John Lanchester’s “The Wall” (to which book it is in every other way superior and whose Booker longlisting looks even more bizarre if one assumes that this book was eligible and submitted). Ball imagines a country which deals with mass immigration by admitting them marking them with a tattoo of a red hat to make their status as legal non-persons – a legal status change which became enforced as a philosophical one: that violence perpetuated on the refugees was not just not illegal but was not even immoral. In time the refugees were also marked by amputation of their thumbs, and given special areas (quadrants) outside of cities where they had a degree of safety (in that citizens too forfeited their rights in what was deemed a pre-civilised space. Outside these guarded areas the citizens (Pats) are drilled in the deployment of gas masks and the use of poisonous gases to protect themselves against the dehumanised refugees (Quads). Over time the Quads are used to house other undesirables – in particular criminals and the Quads themselves have rough justice enforced by bosses who have reached an understanding with the guards. Immediately one set of rather obvious historical parallels are clear: yellow stars, non-persons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonperson – “"Nonperson" status was required because it removed the moral and social obstacles for committing otherwise objectionable acts of violence, crime, abuse, and murder), ghettos, Kapos. The book has a shaky start – the above information is rather clunkily covered by a rhetorical revision lecture on the history of immigration given by Professor Mandred and attended by two citizen girls – Lois and Lethe. Luckily I was able to follow the principles of the Divers Game., I assumed that this was the worst part of the book and trusting that Ball’s writing abilities would be the same as in his last book, I was able to go on. The remainder of the first part follows Lois and (particularly) Lethe on a trip with the Professor to a zoo – to see the last remaining animals in the country. We witness the arbitrary way in which they all treat the Quads they encounter and the Zoo itself is full of symbolism – with a divide between dead and living animals, with the almost eradication of animals a reminder of their cruel and arbitrary treatment (often neither considered illegal or immoral) in our society. Later Lethe is accosted but unharmed by a group of Quad children near some lakes. The society is approaching Ogias’ Day – a Jubilee style day where things are turned upside down and which is therefore unsettling to a society with the creed A world of tiers. Know your place upon it By looking down The second part is set in a particularly rough Quad – and is largely based around a raucous festival there – the Day of the Infanta – where a small child is chosen, given the power to issue orders obeyed without question and required to administer arbitrary justice in a series of real as well as symbolic cases, before being herself subject to the judgement of the mob. In contrast to the unsettling effect of Ogias’s Day – this day is greeted wildly by Quads, allowing them to enact their frustration at their status and the cruel justice to which they are normally subject. Within this part we learn that the son of the Quad boss has disappeared – we later find playing the Divers’ Game, a seeming analogy for the courage required to travel between two otherwise separate socieites (as well as a link to an incident in the first part). Both the post-lecture first part and the second part are written in the wonderful style I recognise from Ball’s previous novel “Census” – sparse and yet full of imagery, enigmatic and yet full of meaning. The third part is another change of style to a rather preachy style in which Ball’s character makes sure we have understood the moral of the book: that in dehumanising others we dehumanise ourselves. It is told in a series of short letters from a Pat woman (one we already know) to her husband – feeling threatened by a Quad she killed him with gas – and immediately cannot come to terms with her actions and contemplates suicide. OR PERHAPS THEY DO KNOW WHY. MY REVULSION AT this place of our lives—this society of which we are a part—seems not to immediately admit an obvious truth: the people who are ground to bits by our horrific thoughtlessness, selfishness, greed, though they may not know in each case why it has happened, they do not need to know. These things have happened so often that it becomes clear: a man like this did not die because of what he did but because of what he was. We are the ones who have the privilege of having things happen to us because of what we do. Not everyone is so lucky. Overall this book – while barely more than a novella and easily read in a single sitting is a quietly powerful and affecting plea to examine what the exclusion of the other is doing to the moral fabric of our societies. One final remark – I am sure it must be a coincidence but as Ball’s last book “Census” was very similar in subject matter and style to China Mieville’s “The Census Taker”, this book in underlying subject matter (but not in any way style) shares a lot with “The City and The City”. Mieville is I think by far the most imaginative and versatile of the two writers, but the use he makes of his versatility (in writing books in varying genre styles – a police procedural in “The City and The City”) renders Ball’s the better read in this case. My thanks to Granta for an ARC via NetGalley.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    I have attempted a couple of times to read a Jesse Ball book, waiting for the one that was right for me. Ball is not exactly my perfect fit, he's more of a literary impressionist while I tend to stick to more realism. With THE DIVERS' GAME I was able to get engrossed in the world Ball created quickly. And even though it isn't my perfect fit as a plot person, I really enjoyed the look into the dark world he's created. There are a lot of ways to mess up a dystopian novel, but it turns out Ball's I have attempted a couple of times to read a Jesse Ball book, waiting for the one that was right for me. Ball is not exactly my perfect fit, he's more of a literary impressionist while I tend to stick to more realism. With THE DIVERS' GAME I was able to get engrossed in the world Ball created quickly. And even though it isn't my perfect fit as a plot person, I really enjoyed the look into the dark world he's created. There are a lot of ways to mess up a dystopian novel, but it turns out Ball's style is well suited to it. He avoids a lot of the problems and pitfalls of creating a society that never seems real. There are images from this story that will not leave my brain any time soon. Ball jumps around in this book, moving to different parts of the world, leaving stories unfinished, giving you more of a feeling than a strict structure, and it works well. The basic elements of this world are introduced in some detail, though other pieces are mysterious even to the people living in it. We spend much of the book following young characters who do not fully comprehend the world they live in, who can be callous about its horrors because it is all they have known. The naivete and openness of children and young people makes THE DIVERS' GAME all the more gut-punching when it delivers its hits (which are plentiful). While plot people like me may find this book unsatisfying because it doesn't give you those typical beats, I still recommend it for its dark vision. It's good to break out of your comfort zone sometimes and this is a worthwhile venture out into the unusual.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ilana

    Heartbreaking. Sublime. Gut wrenching. I’m too gutted and mentally exhausted right now to do an adequate job of describe this short novel which packs such a strong message, but I’ll just go with it and see what comes out. It’s about a supposedly dystopian future, but is really like stepping into a mirror that only slightly distorts our own current reality. This «future» where equality has been declared unviable and immigrants are only accepted if they are willing to live as non-persons (called « Heartbreaking. Sublime. Gut wrenching. I’m too gutted and mentally exhausted right now to do an adequate job of describe this short novel which packs such a strong message, but I’ll just go with it and see what comes out. It’s about a supposedly dystopian future, but is really like stepping into a mirror that only slightly distorts our own current reality. This «future» where equality has been declared unviable and immigrants are only accepted if they are willing to live as non-persons (called «quads» for reasons which are explained) stripped of any rights and be branded as such. Their lives and safety in the hands of any passing citizen, and from early childhood every real person taught their rightful place and the proper use of apparatus to neutralize any «quad» perceived as a threat permanently and with complete impunity, as language has been reshuffled so as to interpret these actions not as violence, but as the maintenance of the proper order of things. There distinct parts form the novel, interconnected, but showing different aspects of how this radical imbalance of power paired with brutal violence plays out in this «future society». And one woman, trained all her life to accept this reality and her superior position within this society, is driven to suicide when she one day does take a life when she feels threatened by a quad. She reveals in her suicide note that in her final gesture, there still lives a real spark of compassion for those who were born less fortunate, and an unbreakable moral spirit. I believe we all recognize ourselves in her. I broke down and cried warm tears. We who have empathy find these harsh times unbearably difficult to navigate through. I’m not doing this novel any justice but that’s what’s coming out for now and I honestly am not able to think very clearly. I read an excellent review that led me to pick up this book which I will provide the link to when I come back to edit later. Completely drained and needing a rest for now.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris Haak

    Jesse Ball has his own special way of looking at the world that amazes me again and again. In this novel he looks at migration and creates a dystopian civilization that really got to me. People can be goddamn awful if society's laws allows them to do so... Thank you Harper Collins and Edelweiss for the ARC.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I think it's time for me to concede that while I admire the ideas and wider themes of Jesse Ball's novels they don't ever seem to quite work out for me. The Lois/Lethe storyline grabbed me - there was more world building in this section, and I loved the section in the zoo - but it was over way too soon and unfortunately the other three stories failed to hold my interest, being a bit vague for my liking. If you're a fan of dystopia and this sounds up your street then I think it's worth checking I think it's time for me to concede that while I admire the ideas and wider themes of Jesse Ball's novels they don't ever seem to quite work out for me. The Lois/Lethe storyline grabbed me - there was more world building in this section, and I loved the section in the zoo - but it was over way too soon and unfortunately the other three stories failed to hold my interest, being a bit vague for my liking. If you're a fan of dystopia and this sounds up your street then I think it's worth checking out, but it wasn't my cup of tea. Thank you Netgalley and Granta Publications for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gerhard

    Okay, maybe I must just skip millennial writers. Yes, I got the immigrant/refugee connection, but why the quasi SF dystopia disconnect? The whole gas mask shtick is pretty distasteful. Allegory is so difficult to pull off; you have to be invested in your characters, or they are just empty ciphers. And the most lifelike character here is a half-dead rabbit. For me, as a South African, the main resonance was with Apartheid enforced segregation, alienation, and dispossession (do we capitalise it Okay, maybe I must just skip millennial writers. Yes, I got the immigrant/refugee connection, but why the quasi SF dystopia disconnect? The whole gas mask shtick is pretty distasteful. Allegory is so difficult to pull off; you have to be invested in your characters, or they are just empty ciphers. And the most lifelike character here is a half-dead rabbit. For me, as a South African, the main resonance was with Apartheid enforced segregation, alienation, and dispossession (do we capitalise it now that it is in the filing cabinet of History?) And why the angsty seriousness, which just screams Portentous Pronouncement at like every paragraph? This would have worked far better as an episode of The Orville.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura Peden

    Narrated by Sophie Amoss....twist my arm.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Jesse Ball is a marvel of a writer. Each book of his that I’ve read – The Curfew, Silence Once Begun, A Cure for Suicide, How to Set a Fire and Why – has been inventive, imaginative, and often, transformative. So it is small wonder that I wanted to be an early reader for this, his latest. Certainly these dark and unsettling times have informed this dystopian novel, in which the world is divided into two groups: quads and pats. The pats are the privileged country natives and the quads are the Jesse Ball is a marvel of a writer. Each book of his that I’ve read – The Curfew, Silence Once Begun, A Cure for Suicide, How to Set a Fire and Why – has been inventive, imaginative, and often, transformative. So it is small wonder that I wanted to be an early reader for this, his latest. Certainly these dark and unsettling times have informed this dystopian novel, in which the world is divided into two groups: quads and pats. The pats are the privileged country natives and the quads are the refugees, who are branded and have their dominant thumb removed. Pats must carry gas masks and canisters at all times, to kill the quads if they feel threatened—without fear of retribution. A sense of menace pervades each section of the novel. In the first, two young pats end up with their teacher at a zoo in which all the animals (save one) are dead. The focus then switches to quad festival called Infanta, where an anointed child is given god-like powers to judge those who approach her float with a guilty or an innocent verdict before mayhem ensues. Ball then switches again to a more allegorical setting, in the next section, the divers’ game, a risky place where children struggle to overcome their destiny. Jesse Ball writes, “It’s hard to believe, but the two ponds connect. I’m telling you they connect—under the ground. So we call the tunnel between them the divers’ game. It’s rough, by the time you get along it our eyes star up. I mean you’re all dizzy and seeing lights, and then you have to go mad, you have to brutalize and just kick and kick and use it all and then you end up on the surface.” It’s society at its worst, where children pressure each other and only the strong survive. Finally, the last part introduces a pat woman who has just killed a quad and is actually feeling remorse: “a man like this did not die because of what he was.” Sometimes grotesque, often thought-provoking and eerie, Jesse Ball’s latest presents a mirror of the outer reaches of a society that we may be fast becoming. Thank you to @HarperCollins for the privilege of receiving an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Although I’m not really one to compare, I can’t helping thinking that Jesse Ball is the U.S. equivalent of Ali Smith; both have sparse prose, are prolific, both approach text in a playful manner and focus on serious topics. True Ali Smith stuffs as many cultural references as she can in her work but I do think that there are similarities. This time round Ball creates a dystopic future where immigrants are branded and can be killed, there’s a sort of caste system, bizarre rituals and games. The Although I’m not really one to compare, I can’t helping thinking that Jesse Ball is the U.S. equivalent of Ali Smith; both have sparse prose, are prolific, both approach text in a playful manner and focus on serious topics. True Ali Smith stuffs as many cultural references as she can in her work but I do think that there are similarities. This time round Ball creates a dystopic future where immigrants are branded and can be killed, there’s a sort of caste system, bizarre rituals and games. The book is divided into roughly four parts. The first part consists of two girls and their professor first attending a lecture on how the creation of a branded immigrant class and then going to a zoo (all animals but one are stuffed) .One of the girls runs off and encounters the poorer people in her section of town. At the same time the village is preparing for Orgias day, a celebration in where debts are dropped. I saw this section as a commentary on immigration laws, extreme social classes and the affects of ‘progress’ The second and third are combined. One part is about a ritual where a girl can decide the fates of the town she lives in and the other section involves a group of boys playing the titular divers’ game. The book concludes by tying everything together via a letter from the professor’s wife talking about the cruelties of this world. Other than the ‘this could happen to you’ (although things like this have happened in the past) scenarios. What else is Ball trying to say in this brief novel? Is The Divers’ Game about the loss of innocence (a theme also explored in his last novel, Census)? All the children in the book carry out punishments of some type or act in an unforgiving manner. Does this signify that future generations are going to worsen? The last section itself is about death – is that the only escape? Jesse Ball’s novels are open to many interpretations. Once again Jesse Ball has written a novel to ponder, dissect and pull apart. Due to the eclectic nature of his books, I tend to look ahead and wonder what his next move will be. Many thanks to Granta for providing a requested copy of The divers’ Circle in exchange for an honest review.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Sullivan

    There is no contemporary author quite like Jesse Ball.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    NPR review by Hugo Award-winning editor Jason Heller: https://www.npr.org/2019/09/15/755208... "Dystopian stories are, in essence, thought experiments. And few come as thoughtful as The Divers' Game. The latest novel from acclaimed author Jesse Ball depicts a world both unimaginably unjust and all too believably cruel: Society has been split into two distinct halves, the pats and the quads, with the former group given unchecked supremacy over the second. It isn't the most original premise in NPR review by Hugo Award-winning editor Jason Heller: https://www.npr.org/2019/09/15/755208... "Dystopian stories are, in essence, thought experiments. And few come as thoughtful as The Divers' Game. The latest novel from acclaimed author Jesse Ball depicts a world both unimaginably unjust and all too believably cruel: Society has been split into two distinct halves, the pats and the quads, with the former group given unchecked supremacy over the second. It isn't the most original premise in dystopian fiction, but Ball clearly isn't trying to reinvent any genre tropes. Rather, he's plumbing the depths of a familiar conceit, attacking it from a fresh angle, and constructing a parable that's jarring in its subtle complexity and profound, horrific revelation. . . ." I'm lukewarm about dystopias, & this one sounds less palatable than most. So, FYI. Nice review.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    We are the ones who have the privilege of having things happen to us because of what we do. Not everyone is so lucky. Jesse Ball’s sparely stylized dystopian novel is an exploration of human connections gone wrong. I was slightly wary of yet another literary piece jerking tears about the agendized issue of refugees. Fortunately, this was not case, although an intelligently subtle question was raised about what it means to be a newcomer and when this status stops. The three parts of the novel We are the ones who have the privilege of having things happen to us because of what we do. Not everyone is so lucky. Jesse Ball’s sparely stylized dystopian novel is an exploration of human connections gone wrong. I was slightly wary of yet another literary piece jerking tears about the agendized issue of refugees. Fortunately, this was not case, although an intelligently subtle question was raised about what it means to be a newcomer and when this status stops. The three parts of the novel cover the spectrum of disconnection in the same terse style I liked in his Census. In part one, we are taken on a trip to the land of the pats, the dominants, the hosts, who are in expectation of the great and rare Ogias’ Day, a day of forgiveness reminiscent of the biblical Jubilee. We don’t witness the event, this is a state of anticipation. Part two also focuses on a celebratory and symbolic event, this time in the world of the branded and mutilated quads, the non-citizens. On the Day of the Infanta, a young girl is chosen to administer justice. Eventually there is a ruling on the Infanta herself. The judge is judged. A non-obtrusive comment of a spectator reveals how even such a blindly innocent being is incapable of impartiality. I liked this insinuation that fair justice is never really blind, or when it is, it is never really fair justice. Fairness is a quality of those who understand. It was sad to see how the subculture of the quads could only afford brutal and pointless rituals that perpetuated the heartless blind equity, while forgiveness was a privilege of the dominants. Part three reiterates the (self-)judgment over the judge motif and connects the two dimensions via the wife of a pat character from part one. She is the acting representative of the absurd jurisdiction where people are judged for who they are, not for what they do, i.e. she gasses a quad. As an instrument of justice, she becomes general, she writes, losing her uniqueness. Personhood is preserved in a relationship of equals capable of connection, where no one has more power over the other than vice versa. That, soon, will be dystopia.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Fatma

    This was a weird book, and not in a good way. You know those books you finish with a bad taste in your mouth because they weren't anything other than a waste of your time? Yeah, this book was one of them. I didn't get anything from this book; it didn't emotionally affect me, didn't intellectually challenge me, didn't anything. Clearly, this was a miss.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bill Hsu

    Ball's world-building here is just a small conceptual nudge from our horrific realities today. As in most of his work that I've read, there are thoughtful examinations of specific situations and perspectives, and the cruelties that the characters live in/with. There are two cathartic, "festive" events that point out the contrasting experiences of the two classes. We only get hints of Ogias' Day, but do get some glimpses of the almost bacchanalian Day of the Infanta (and its possible, futile Ball's world-building here is just a small conceptual nudge from our horrific realities today. As in most of his work that I've read, there are thoughtful examinations of specific situations and perspectives, and the cruelties that the characters live in/with. There are two cathartic, "festive" events that point out the contrasting experiences of the two classes. We only get hints of Ogias' Day, but do get some glimpses of the almost bacchanalian Day of the Infanta (and its possible, futile aftermath). Ball's clean, quiet prose just emphasizes the darkness of the narratives.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    I liked this, but wish I had known it was separate vignettes with not much in the way of resolutions. I kept waiting for plots to tie together and for endings that didn't come. But taking it as a group of creepy dreamy mood pieces, it was effective and it is sticking with me, in an upsetting way.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn Crupi

    Four set pieces frame Ball’s latest novel where he confronts our morality in a dystopian future where most animals are extinct and violence against immigrants is legal and without consequences. So who are we when we can inflict violence with impunity? Where does compassion live when existing notions of morality are extinguished? Ball asks the best questions in his fiction and I will read any book he chooses to write.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tess

    A stark, gut-wrenching look at a dystopian future that is both fully formed and entirely plausible. THE DIVERS’ GAME grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the last page. Bell has created unforgettable characters and and a chilling story about a new society that clearly divides those who have, and those who don’t. I don’t want to give much away, because the discovery of the world is one of the best parts of the book, but know it’s a tough read from an incredible writer.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ari Levine

    Less of a dystopian narrative than the jacket copy would suggest-- the world-building collapses into nonsense, and the exposition is clunky. Like some of George Saunders' more whacked-out short stories, this is more of an avant-garde experimental fiction that deploys allegory and absurdity to work through the refugee crisis, state violence, cruelty, dehumanizaton, xenophobia, and complicity.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bram

    Jesse Ball can do no wrong and here he out Attwoods Attwood with a terrifyingly plausible take on an alternative present. For fans, think of it as a companion of sorts to The Curfew.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Miles

    Out Sept. 10, 2019: I love Jesse Ball. Census served as my introduction to his work (and the ending made me sob). No crying this time around, just a lot of chills and breathless page turning. Ball created such a fully formed dystopian setting, rife with conflict. His young characters, many of which find themselves embroiled in the most horrific snares of the book, offer up gut punch after gut punch until the final devastating section; an ending that had me wanting to go back into the fray all Out Sept. 10, 2019: I love Jesse Ball. Census served as my introduction to his work (and the ending made me sob). No crying this time around, just a lot of chills and breathless page turning. Ball created such a fully formed dystopian setting, rife with conflict. His young characters, many of which find themselves embroiled in the most horrific snares of the book, offer up gut punch after gut punch until the final devastating section; an ending that had me wanting to go back into the fray all over again.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    My Q&A with Jesse Ball for the Chicago Tribune: https://www.chicagotribune.com/entert... Jesse Ball’s work has been described as “genius” by the late Alan Cheuse in the pages of this very publication, and over the course of his abundantly productive career to date, he has built up an ardent following among fans and critics. Winner of the 2008 Paris Review George Plimpton Prize, Ball was a both a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lion Prize and long listed for the National Book My Q&A with Jesse Ball for the Chicago Tribune: https://www.chicagotribune.com/entert... Jesse Ball’s work has been described as “genius” by the late Alan Cheuse in the pages of this very publication, and over the course of his abundantly productive career to date, he has built up an ardent following among fans and critics. Winner of the 2008 Paris Review George Plimpton Prize, Ball was a both a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lion Prize and long listed for the National Book Award for fiction in 2015, and was chosen in 2017 by Granta as one of their Best Young American Novelists. Not to mention that he has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the Creative Capital Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His newest book, The Divers’ Game, imagines a grim near-future in which the concept of fairness has been abandoned with bloodlust and glee. Set amid the injustice of a two-tiered society divided into “pats” and “quads,” the pats enjoy full rights to slaughter any quad they want to at will, setting the book up to deliver an uncomfortable examination of ethics in our present-day world. Ball answered these questions by email; the transcript has been edited for clarity and space. How many books have you published so far? I tried to get an accurate count, but there are so many—including poetry, fiction, and nonfiction—that it was hard to do. How do you manage to be so prolific, and do you find “prolific” to be sort of a left-handed compliment? 18 or 19, I think. There are others that I hope to see come out in the next years. I want to publish several together in a book called Oxhead, Horsehead. Will it be next? I don't think I am prolific; the word prolific might imply a person is working all the time and bent on production. I am not bent on production. In fact I work very rarely. It's just that when I decide to write a book, I do that, I write it down and then it's done. At first it took longer, but now it takes about one week. I try not to take things back. I'm not embarrassed by what I produce, so I don't need to fiddle with it. People may not like it. I expect that. That said, there are many ways to write books. What I do has no bearing on what anyone else does: I don't put it forward as a superior method. I am moved to write because there is so much to be delighted and hurt by. The tortuous navigations of any arbitrarily chosen interaction of objects when approached with care will yield strangeness; this is the strangeness of real sight. One feels oneself delicate when using this kind of sight—because the world is so fraught; it is always passing away: none of it remains. You don’t have a Twitter, a Facebook, or an Instagram, and the website jesseball.com is a single page consisting of a list of works published and unpublished, solo and collaborative, plus the information with which people can contact you by way of a third party. Why maintain such a relatively low online profile? That page (jesseball.com) is out of date, I suppose. I should delete it, but it is hard to muster the will to do so. I may not know the passwords involved. There was a time when I thought it was worthwhile to make a labyrinth of a website. My friend, the artist Will Rahilly, had a site, yellowandorange.com. It was like having your brain pulled out through your nose with long metal tongs. I tried to do something similar. This was in 2005, I would say. But I don't have much to do with these things now. My life is not online, so I am not overly concerned. I do, though, have a twitter (in order to share drawings: @llabessej). At the start of your career, you wrote poetry, including your debut, 2004’s March Book—do you still, and why or why not? Who are your most beloved poets? J: My favorite living writer is a poet: Alice Oswald. Other favorites: Rilke, Patchen, Dickinson, Whitman (1855), Tsetaeva. I do still write poetry from time to time. The Village on Horseback (2011) has two books of poems in it. Fool Book is a book of poems. You’re an acclaimed writer married to another acclaimed writer, Chicago’s Catherine Lacey -- what’s that like? Catherine Lacey is my partner. She is a bizarre person who shares some of my goals and ideas. We find it easy to pass the time together. That she has a career that is exciting—I find I can take more joy in her success than in my own. Writers naturally feel misunderstood. She and I, we end up traveling very much, because we go abroad for her books and also for mine. Perhaps there is a joy in seeing her put into difficult positions in front of crowds. She can find her way out, and does. You self-identify as a “fabulist, absurdist.” What do fabulism and absurdism mean to you, and why have they long been your go-to strategies for creating fictional worlds? I would rather not identify or self-identify at all. However, at times when forced to, I suppose I have said things like that. Fabulism because the imagination is paramount. Where is there actual non-fiction? I have never seen it. Human life is an imaginative act. Of course it ends badly! Absurdism because for me it is the only practical and realistic stance. I find myself ridiculous. I find the world ridiculous. It is sad and ridiculous and also sometimes radiant. Much of your previous work—A Cure for Suicide, for instance, and How to Set a Fire and Why to name a couple recent examples—can broadly be described as dark. But your latest book, The Divers’ Game, could be seen as especially bleak, given its exploration of state-sanctioned carte blanche murder of one class of people by another. What drew you to write a novel that focuses so closely on inhumanity and barbarism and what do you hope readers will get out of it? It has been depressing for me to publish so many books that take positions against American society—and to find that this content has been largely ignored or avoided by reviewers. Perhaps this forced me to be more obvious about the plight of young people in How to Set a Fire and Why, and now again in The Divers' Game. In Census, I came as close as I could to depicting Down syndrome, and the love I feel for a Down syndrome boy, my late brother. When that book was published, I was not surprised to find the subject of Down syndrome makes most Americans, perhaps especially liberal Americans, uncomfortable. They would rather conduct a medical screening and never think about the matter again. I don't write unnecessarily dark books. I simply believe readers should be addressed as thinking feeling beings who can draw their own conclusions. In such cases, one simply opens a window to the street and what is present in the street is present in the book. It is rich enough. As for what readers might receive: it is hard to say. The book is half mine. The other half is constructed with the memories, longing, referents, etcetera, of the readers' lives. All the masks are made with their own skin and hair, the buildings with the outsides of things they've seen. A real book is less a statement than an incitement, a finger pointing at something only slightly seen, something perhaps unseeable. You live in Chicago and teach at the School of the Art Institute. What brought you here? How does your teaching impact your writing and vice versa? I came to Chicago from Iceland in order to teach at SAIC. That was in 2007. Now years have passed; I have had some remarkable students. The philosopher Jacques Ranciere (The Ignorant Schoolmaster) taught me that teaching is not about the one who teaches. It is not about magnificence. It is a matter of simple questions and gentle behavior. It is a slow thing, inconsequential like a feather. I think Chicago is a fascinating place to live, especially if you roam the city at large. What is hidden elsewhere in America is very obvious in Chicago. Can we say it is a kind of canary, always half-drunk and choking on dust? What is something that you’ve always wanted an interviewer to ask you about, but they never have? The books I have written are a kind of resistance to the America I was born into. They resist many modes of thinking that are ubiquitous and, to many, seemingly inescapable. I don't care if the books are literature or not; I want them to be a voice that mutters its opposition to the present state of affairs. I have been feebly muttering that opposition for most of my 41 years. We'll see how long I last.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sookie

    Jesse Ball sets up a dystopian world where people's origin becomes basis of their existence. Its a harsh world for some and a decent world for some - based on which side of the tracks you are on. The basis comes from modern day citizen - non-citizen thing but in this world, the treatment of these two categories is extreme. The Divers' Game is set in this dystopia and consists of four interconnected stories. The stories stand to show the world and the lifestyle people lead than any semblance of Jesse Ball sets up a dystopian world where people's origin becomes basis of their existence. Its a harsh world for some and a decent world for some - based on which side of the tracks you are on. The basis comes from modern day citizen - non-citizen thing but in this world, the treatment of these two categories is extreme. The Divers' Game is set in this dystopia and consists of four interconnected stories. The stories stand to show the world and the lifestyle people lead than any semblance of story. Ball has a nuanced way of writing, almost lyrical, that transforms the reader into this harsh setting and absorbs them. Having said that, of the four narrations, except for the first, the rest fail to draw in with narration. Its a new world to understand and Ball's way of narration doesn't help, and not to mention, the plot in these three structures are not interesting enough. The first one though is fully thought out plot which acts as a tool to explore the world. Its a stark view of a future that's incredibly disconnected from current world though its based on it. Civilization has declined and the way Ball writes is nostalgic of a time that hasn't happened yet. That probably is why the first story stands out so far from the rest. While the first story is absolute five star, the rest barely make it to three. Quite disappointed how it went down. Jesse Ball is a new author for me and is one will be on my radar.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joachim Stoop

    Not my favourite Ball

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