Although he has appeared in an episode of Gilmore Girls, I’ve never actually read anything by Norman Mailer – a relative superstar in the 20th century literary world.

Released in 1975, The Fight follows the legendary fight between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman – two names that are synonymous with boxing, even today. Set in the country of Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo), Norman Mailer turns the upcoming boxing match into a mystical dream – complete with little known religions (Mobutism), a dark and seamy country and two of the most famous and well-paid athletes in the world.

The now infamous fight that occurred between Ali and Foreman is famous not only for its David and Goliath storyline, but also the way in which Ali won. Though boxing is largely known for its violence and brutality, Ali defeated Foreman simply by weathering his massive punches and eventually pouncing on Foreman when he became tired and defenceless.

Of course, the other reason that that fight is so well known is due to Mailer’s somewhat eccentric, if accurate retelling. In the hands of the author the fight was no longer just ‘a fight’, but a battle of the minds; the aged and faded vs. strength and youth; the importance of race and religion in sporting; and, the effects of a terrifying and dark country on the psyche. Basically, for a book about sport, Mailer spends an awful lot of time discussing the politics that surround sport and what it means to be famous.

Unfortunately, I was not a fan of The Fight. Although I will confess that I have never shown much interest in boxing, my lack of interest in certain sports has never stopped me from enjoying a book before – Fever Pitch (which I read and reviewed earlier this year), is just one example. Basically, though the storyline of Ali defying the odds and destroying a colossus with mind over matter (loosely speaking of course) is a fantastical one, I was distracted and disappointed by Mailer’s writing style. Essentially, what could have been a gripping story was lost in the chaos and noise that Mailer enveloped it in.

For example, Mailer has a peculiar writing style where he is both the narrator of the story, as well as a character – however, the character is not in the first perspective, but is rather told from a third person point-of-view – i.e. Norman Mailer (the narrative) discusses the conversations that Norman Mailer had. Though I’m sure it is a literary device that is used for some purpose, as a reader I just got a bit befuddled and confused (why is Mailer talking about Mailer as if he doesn’t know him?), and as a result, I was taken out of the storyline. Secondly, Mailer spends a great deal of the plot of The Fight dissecting the different aspects of Mobutism, Zaire and the culture that surrounds it. Usually, this would be fine, but once again, the excess of information simply took the spotlight away from the main plot, that of the fight, so that when the story did snake its way back to the two fighters, I had lost my thread as to what stage they were up to.

Norman Mailer is clearly a formidable writer who understands literary devices and the use of narrative (clearly more so than myself). Unfortunately, as a reader I didn’t connect with his way of storytelling. I think it’s important to become absorbed by a book, and Mailer’s style of narration made this almost impossible. Although the fight between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman is indeed impressive, The Fight somehow only dulled this, rather than raise it to the legendary status it deserves.

Have you read The Fight or anything by Norman Mailer? Are you a fan? Have you heard of the famous Ali/Foreman fight? Let me know!

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