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The Divers' Game From the inimitable mind of award winning author Jesse Ball a novel about an unsettlingly familiar society that has renounced the concept of euality—and the devastating conseuences of unmitigated powerThe old fashioned struggle for fairness has finally been abandoned It was a misguided endeavor The world is divided into two groups pats and uads The pats may kill the uads as they like and do The uads have no recourse but to continue with their livesThe Divers’ Game is a thinly veiled description of our society an extreme case that demonstrates a truth we must change or our world will collapseWhat is the effect of constant fear on a life or on a culture The Divers’ Game explores the conseuences of violence through two festivals and through the dramatic and excruciating examination of a woman’s final momentsBrilliantly 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

  • ebook
  • 240 pages
  • The Divers' Game
  • Jesse Ball
  • 15 June 2016
  • 9780062676115

About the Author: Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball 1978 Born in New York The author of fourteen books most recently the novel How To Set a Fire and Why His prizewinning works of absurdity have been published to acclaim in many parts of the world and translated into than a dozen languages The recipient of the Paris Review's Plimpton Prize as well as fellowships from the NEA the Heinz foundation and others he is on the fa



10 thoughts on “The Divers' Game

  1. Meike Meike says:

    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 conseuences 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 ineuality justifying this with arguments that rely on fear ignorance and ideas of superiority The people living in the lawless uarters 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 conseuences 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 livingdead creatures are cagedIn the second part we meet kids living in Row House one of the lawless uads 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 punishment cruelty 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 euality 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 uad 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 conseuences 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. Marchpane Marchpane says:

    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 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. Roman Clodia Roman Clodia says:

    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 US 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 worldFor 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 readMany thanks to Granta for an ARC via NetGalley

  4. Dan Williamson Dan Williamson says:

    The Divers' Game is set in a future or alternative society in which refugees and other social outcasts are legally designated as subhuman They are left to live in cordoned off slums called uads and if they enter the main city citizens are permitted to gas them in order to stun them knock them out or kill them The citizens all carry gas masks and colour coded canisters They are trained from an early age to don the mask and attack with speed While refugees are considered non human most actual non human animals in this world are extinctReading The Divers' Game is a truly uniue experience The most similar thing I can think of is Nicola Barker's excellent HAPPY At times the novel feels like a network of symbols and open ended metaphors than a narrative The prose skips along with the frenetic and ever shifting energy of children playing and for the most part it sticks closely to the perspectives of children Across four sections we follow two children from mainstream society; a young girl who has been made the primary performer in a wild festival in one of the worst reputed uads; a boy who is being chastised by adults after his friend the son of a uad kingpin goes missing; and a grown woman who well I will leave that for you to discoverBy introducing us to this dystopia through the eyes of children Ball reflects how our own societies accustom us to their own ineualities and cruelties and how we become active participants from a young age I think one of the uestions he wants to ask in this book is To what extent can one ever excuse cruelty with innocence? There are countless examples in The Divers' Game of the line between innocence and cruelty ignorance and malice being blurred both among the citizens and outsiders One example comes in the first part of a section entitled The Day of the Infanta A young girl Lessen becomes the Infanta the central figure of the section's namesake festival She is put in a dress of apple red brocade and larger than any dress she had worn She is given an army of 'chimney sweeps' men with brooms And she is repeatedly reminded that you have to be careful what you say because everyone will obey you Just like that she is given enormous power over everyone in the uad She immediately begins to fantasise I can make them do anything What should I make them do? She thought about her sister who was often very mean to her The day before when she had been chosen Infanta her sister had hit her as hard as she could right in front of the visitors If Lessen told her chimney sweets to pull off her sister's legs what would happen? She imagined her sister screaming and trying to run away and being caught and lifted up She could also have the chimney sweeps find her father's shift boss and tear off his legs Now that might be a thing to do He was always keeping her father late and not letting him go home Maybe he would be a better shift boss without legsMuch of the cruelty of the young citizens appears to come from their indoctrination into principles a cruel society As for Lessen in the uads her cruelty is merely a mirror of the cruelties and injustices she sees around her We see her undergo a transformation that she can observe but can't understand We get hints later on of how her power develops and its conseuence for the uad but we don't get a full image which brings me to what is in my opinion one of the The Divers' Game's main flaws The four main sections are thematically linked and we do see characters return Ball does a brilliant job of allowing us to slowly stitch together a vision of this strange society understanding its laws divisions and jargon and there are enough anecdotes observations parables and ideas for his story to have a moral impact to allow us to make comparisons to our own societies past present and potential He leaves a lot to the imagination with respect to the world itself which we have to put together piecemeal and that is one of things that makes the experience so richAt the same time it feels almost as though we are forced to leave each section on cliffhangers that we would rather like to see resolved It is clearly a deliberate choice by Ball to create space between the sections and allow us draw our own conclusions Still I felt dissatisfied There were stories to be told and I wanted to read them I would have loved to see interaction between the various characters we meetI'll end the review with a uote from the book that captures some of the clever ways in which Ball talks about his extreme dystopia while putting a difficult probe on our own and others After two young citizens encounter a man from the uads one of them justifies the present social arrangement as if it was in the interest of the refugees and outcasts In the uads she says it's safer for them because no one can gas them Except for the guards Out here anything that happens to them is fine They have to be on their toes all the time You know that The narrator representing society goes onThe girls' behaviour does it seem cruel? You have to understand it isn't cruel so much as natural What is natural must be respected must be wallowed in Isn't it so?Why should they bother to care about someone so inferior? It makes perfect sense that service of every kind should be given by those who can provide it Those who are ridiculous bear ridicule Those who are beneath notice are not noticed and those who are elect are raised upAs much as we like to think there can be fairness it is really a foolish idea one we ought to have done away with long ago Instead of fairness there is just order and its conseuences

  5. Neil Neil says:

    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 societyImagine 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 “uads” as they are known because they live in special lawless and walled in areas called uads 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 euipped to deal with any uad who approaches and looks vaguely threatening with no threat of repercussionsWelcome to Jesse Ball’s future worldBut 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 linksTwo 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 euality and Then a young girl is selected to be the centre of a communal ceremony in one of the uads 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 euality and was feared by many because of that here the ceremony creates a complete ineuality 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 crowdFinally 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 conseuences of cruelty for the life of the person being cruelThis 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 bookI 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 themmI 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 interpretYou 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 togetherAs 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

  6. Jennifer Jennifer says:

    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?”

  7. Paul Fulcher Paul Fulcher says:

    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 allIt smells like licorice left in a holeSource A hyena who searched Jesse Ball's house in 2018 and found the draft of this novel 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 themThis novel gives us a a dystopian set up but one that draws as Graham's review 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 violenceDespite the 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 belowI 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 lessonThe 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 uite 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 reacuire 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 for people like you people who own things It’s a holiday to keep you owning the things you owninteresting 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 systemThe 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 ageRecommended 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 35 stars as it isn't Ball's strongest work and readers would be better starting elsewhereAnd there is a wonderful interview here between two of my favourite writers Ball and the brilliant Patty Yumi Cottrell to the publisher via Netgalley for the ARC

  8. Michael Livingston Michael Livingston says:

    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 like pawns he was moving around to make his points than real complex people It's a uick and at times horrifying read it's probably worth your time but it fell a tiny bit short of my high expectations

  9. Gumble& Gumble& says:

    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 bizarre if one assumes that this book was eligible and submittedBall 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 uadrants 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 uads Over time the uads are used to house other undesirables – in particular criminals and the uads themselves have rough justice enforced by bosses who have reached an understanding with the guardsImmediately one set of rather obvious historical parallels are clear yellow stars non persons – “Nonperson status was reuired because it removed the moral and social obstacles for committing otherwise objectionable acts of violence crime abuse and murder ghettos KaposThe 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 uads 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 uad 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 itBy looking down The second part is set in a particularly rough uad – 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 uestion and reuired 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 uads 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 uad boss has disappeared – we later find playing the Divers’ Game a seeming analogy for the courage reuired to travel between two otherwise separate socieites as well as a link to an incident in the first partBoth 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 meaningThe 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 uad 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 than a novella and easily read in a single sitting is a uietly 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 caseMy thanks to Granta for an ARC via NetGalley

  10. Jessica Woodbury Jessica Woodbury says:

    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 of a literary impressionist while I tend to stick to realism With THE DIVERS' GAME I was able to get engrossed in the world Ball created uickly And even though it isn't my perfect fit as a plot person I really enjoyed the look into the dark world he's createdThere 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 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 gut punching when it delivers its hits which are plentifulWhile 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

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