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Book review: The queen’s gambit by Walter Tevis

Book: The Queen's Gambit
Author: Walter Tevis
Genre: Fiction, psychological thriller
Rating: 5/5 
Published: 1983

From the moment I picked up Walter Tevis’ amazing novel The Queen’s Gambit, I struggled to put it back down, and ended up finishing the book in just two days, 243 pages of it. The Queen’s Gambit is a novel first published in 1983 following the life of a chess prodigy. As boring as that may sound, the words that tell the story between the front and back cover begs to differ. The novel takes place in 1950 where women are still considered to be intellectually inferior to men. Elizabeth Harmon, is both young and also female, challenging the traditional norms of society. We are first introduced to Beth at the age of eight as an orphan with the first sentence, “Beth learned of her mother’s death from a woman with a clipboard.”

But for a moment, let’s put chess aside, and look at the story through Beth’s eyes, an eight-year-old orphan girl from Kentucky. The chaotic battlefield here, in this story is her mind. Ending up in an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth finds two ways to escape her reality; first chess which is taught to her by a creepy janitor in a dark basement, and second, taking the little green pills given to her and also the other orphans, which helps keep the children tranquilized. It doesn’t take long before her genius mind is discovered while playing a game of chess. She wins her way up the rankings, earning money, beating grandmasters. Beth is smart, maybe even too smart for her own good. In a society where women are considered inferior, she doesn’t see gender, and is often frustrated about articles written about her, focusing more on her being a young woman rather than her successful chess wins. But all that aside something is missing in her life, which leaves her mind in a state of loneliness. Leading her to swallow more green pills and drink more alcohol.

There are many quotes in this book I enjoyed and choosing a favourite is difficult, however, if I was forced to choose it would be the quote where Beth said, “It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it; I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So, if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.”

To those who are thinking, “do I need to be a chess fan to read this book?” The answer is no. Although, the plot takes place with a girl rising up the ranks playing chess, it is also much more than that. It is also about loss, death, rejection, addiction, and even sexism. Ergo, if you believe you can relate to even one of those emotions listed, this book is for you. That’s not to say that chess is boring. It may be for some, however Tevis brings out the excitement and dramatics of chess into this book.

The book is engaging and easy to follow with the author’s straight to the point writing, “it was six days until Thursday.” It’s a book I read once and will happily go back and read again. I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit to the point where I turned a blind eye to Beth’s gloomy future at the end of the novel. The little orphan grew up to outgrow the one thing that made her name. We may not be a prodigy but we can still understand and relate to Beth Harmon in more ways than one, which is the core of what makes this book engaging. 

You can buy your own copy on Amazon.

Poem 26: OBLIVION

A knot so tight,
Stuck in my throat,
Words of delight?
I laugh out of spite.

What do you want?
A familiar face now foreign,
Lost for meaning, judged often
By eyes that see sound, softened.

Mind so clouded,
Thoughts rushing, crowded
A parade of vivid dreams,
Strangely cheerful it seems.

Even maybe strangely sad,
Most considered it tacenda,
Broken sky leaking into meridian,
It fills us, the infinity of oblivion.

Poem 25: PEACE

It’s the little moments that matter,
The sun setting with quiet chatter,
House full of kids running, vases shatter,
Grace and golden sun rays fill,
The room until
Darkness hits again, watching it disappear, still
Behind a pointy hill,
Full of memories stolen by loneliness,
Crushed under heaviness
Of unwanted burdens.
Were you aware of,
Your ethereal kindness,
A moira swimming in a state of ataraxia
Free your heart, and the birds into the air.
You are allowed to declare,
A treaty for all hostilities to cease,
Finally, your tortured soul is at ease,
Open your chest and sing to the moon,
Your are the child of peace.

Poem 24: AIR

Pressing pause on life,
Waters crystal clear, no strife
Sun rays blossoming with kisses,
Some souls bored some in dreamy blisses.
Words hanging down my mouth,
Disappears with the gust,
Over spilled sinful lust.
Herbs I inhale, bring paranoia and fear
Trick is to relax and keep your mind clear,
Enjoy the world speak to you,
I have reached a bizarre epiphany,
You are my serendipity.
A deep voice so arcane,
Lost in onism, wishing for rain.
A touch of skin, entwined fingers and hair,
Your breath is my air.

Poem 23: PUZZLE

The final piece missing,
Sunshine on her skin, kissing
Stardust stuck under her eyelids,
Humanity lacking humanity,
But I guess that’s just what life is,
Capable of destruction and terror.

The final piece missing,
Old songs on repeat, reminiscing
A chaotic goodbye, as we die inside
But who needs compassion when we have pride,
A child bride, cried
In a village that turned a blind eye,
I see humanity lacking humanity,
A reality Without any morality.

The final piece missing,
Maybe if the moon smiled,
And the world would listen,
To the sweet birds singing,
Flowers blossoming
Children laughing and playing,
Maybe then we will break our bubble,
And find love, the final piece of the puzzle.

Poem 22: TRANCEPARENCY

I howled so loud,
As they buried me,
In the cold wet ground.
Time fitted that into a palm
Distance brought distance,
In unison, so calm
Harmony, transparency,
I feel your pulse,
With such clarity,
Many masks we all hide behind,
Don’t forget eye for an eye
Will make the world go blind.
Deception, betrayal, dishonesty
The lack of transparency,
Hold me,
Beyond a skin-deep sense of self,
There’s a depth of rasasvada unusually elysian.
Make a decision,
Watch an irenic mangata
The moon reflecting on the sea
Peace simply asks for transparency.