Greig’s book scores well above par

Continuing his reviews of the books shortlisted for the 2006 William Hill Sports Book Award, Randall Northam considers Preferred Lies, by Andrew Greig, and finds it isn’t a golf book at all

I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Preferred Lies. Books on golf usually send me to sleep, the only one I’ve read and that I enjoyed was A Good Walk Spoiled by John Feinstein. I passed on Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom because, well, Buddhism and golf just don’t seem to go together.

Then there was the quote from Iain Banks on the front of Preferred Lies. Was this Scottish authors sticking together… the MacMafia? But Banks was spot on – Andrew Greig’s writing is exquisite and the book is the standout on the list for me, even though it is probably the most surprising book on the William Hill Sports Book of the Year short list of six.

There is a bit of sometimes you play the course and sometimes the course plays you. But that’s golf. Ask me nicely and I’ll tell you about the eagle I got on the 8th at Yelverton in 1967. In fact, if we are talking about golf, the chances are you won’t have to ask me. I’ll tell you anyway.

Greig’s reason for writing the book is that, in middle age, he ended up in hospital requiring a major operation on his brain. Basically he had a colloid cyst which blocked fluid draining from his brain. He needed to have what he calls a ‘bypass shunt’ which let the cerebral fluid drain into his abdomen. Cutting out the cyst would have been too risky.

So he turns to golf to help his recovery after virtually giving up the game 35 years earlier and realises there’s a book in it. He revisits his favourite courses and writes about them beautifully. And while he is there he trips through his memories – his father, his brothers, girlfriends, school etc.

If he didn’t write well (this is his ninth book; seven novels, two about mountaineering on Everest), it would be cloying. But it isn’t. Even his week with Fairway to Heaven, the “find yourself on a golf course” therapy group run out of Findhorn sounds a good way to spend a week.

But is this a sports book? Should it be on the list at all? The golf, and therefore the sport, is almost incidental. It’s about recovery, finding yourself again; re-evaluating your life after near death; sorting out your relationships with the dead and the living. It’s a great book but it’s as much for golfers as Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance is for mechanics.

Read Northam’s other reviews in this series here:

Owens falsely accused in Hitler Games book

Runner sprints away from the facts

And visit the SportsBook website here