The Fight – Norman Mailer

I picked up this book after watching BBC’s “Between The Covers”, aside from a spell where I was obsessed with the Rocky franchise I’ve never really followed boxing, but I do like learning about talented individuals that are at the peak of their powers. The Fight details the events of the infamous Rumble in the Jungle, the 1975 World Heavyweight Boxing championship fight between then current champion George Forman and Muhammad Ali in what was then called Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

From very early on its difficult to shake the feeling that Mailer is racist, he almost always capitalises and uses the word “Blacks”, failing to refer to them as people, more often than not he compares the two fighters in the manner of a man compare cattle at market. Even forgiving the stereotypes for being “of its time” it still makes for uncomfortable readind. It’s not the only bitter taste this example of “New Journalism” (wherein the writer uses techniques often used in fiction to write about real events, though thats a simplification of the writing style) leaves. Mailer, throughout, comes across as self-important, inserting himself into the narrative at any given moment. Often taking whole chapters to lay down his own theories from his readings on African philosophy, far too often at the expense of documenting events surrounding the fight.

Thats not to say the musings on philosophy or local politics don’t play a role, they help set the tone and atmosphere surrounding the fight, but its Mailers insertion of himself as the focal point for these matters that make the earlier chapters drag.

However, once Mailer is able to put his ego to one side, instead focusing on the far more interesting persona’s of the two title fighters, the pace begins to pick up, the tone for all proceeding events begins to unfurl and the reader is placed within the gym’s, arena’s, hotel rooms and conference rooms that the key events to take place. It’s not only Foreman’s misleading quietness and Ali’s (sometimes forced) over confidence that lead the characters, but each fighters entourage have their moments to shine, the one stand out is Ali’s trainer, Drew Bundini Brown getting a sulk on when Ali chooses a different robe and shorts pairing over the ones Bundini would have prefered he used and how Ali uses his own persona to bring that potential conflict around, almost making it look like a staged confrontation between the pair for the eyes of Foreman’s representative within Ali’s changing room, such is the mind-games that take place between the two camps.

Once the fight itself begins the pace of the story-telling and the intensity of the bout is utterly relentless. The book maybe titled The Fight, but the description of the fight itself barely lasts three chapters, only just breaking the 30 page mark. But what a spell of the book it is, capturing every blow, side-step, block, facial expression and comment from within the ring, each teams corner and the press arena, you feel the energy and electricity of the fight.

However, Mailer can’t resist leaving the tale to its natural conclusion, where a less egotistical writer would have stopped the tale after their final meeting with Ali, Mailer begins to reinsert himself into the story, detailing his flight back to America, allowing that ego of his to take over the culimation of such an historical event.

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