David Foot's biography of Harold Gimblett is a very unique, enlightening and at times morose addition to cricket's pantheon of literature. His warm, friendly and personal approach can at points conflict with the complex and distant character he is describing.
Harold Gimblett was a swashbuckling opening bat for Somerset from 1935 through to 1954. In some ways he was a player ahead of his time, only too happy to greet the first ball with a straight drive for six or a supremely timed hook to the boundary. His aggressive nature would at times irritate teammates and county members, more used to seeing a slow and steady approach. However, Harold refused to change and his attitude can be summed up with his own words:
"I just hate being tied down. Once I lose my adventurous style I may as well pack the whole thing in"
David's words capture this wonderfully talented and precocious talent perfectly, giving us insight into his philosophy on cricket as well as his stubborn reluctance to change his game to suit the selectors. In this short and succinct book (just 140 pages) we rattle through his playing days, with the narrative flowing seamlessly from one season to the next, never getting bogged down in numbers. That's the beauty of David Foot, his writing rolls like fiction, even when narrating a life.
Harold was a very interesting character. Undoubtedly a remarkable talent, but a very troubled individual. He loathed the spotlight of playing international cricket, feeling crushed under the weight of expectation, he would rejoice when not selected and he'd be the only person not disappointed to only receive 3 caps. He was quick to speak his mind, never afraid if his opinions caused conflict. He was prone to prolonged moments of melancholy and experienced breakdowns resulting in hospital treatment. Towards the end of his life he had become disillusioned with cricket, Somerset, commercialism, politics and a number of other things.
At the same time, he was often cheery, good company and full of life. It was often said how chatty he was at the crease and on his good days, he was really good. He was a loving husband and proud father.
David perfectly weaves his own words with those of Harold's, recorded shortly before his death. Here in lies the beauty of this book, the first-hand words of Harold, tied together with the narrative of someone who knew him so well.
The book concludes with the suicide of Harold, his final words are extremely difficult to read, his mental state difficult to comprehend, in the end Harold's mental demons were too powerful to overcome, and he succumbed to their ferocious and insatiable pursuit, something Harold struggled with for decades. It's a melancholy end to what is a heart-warming beautifully constructed book.