Didn t realise that it was possible for me to not fall in love with the subject of a biography John Healy I don t idolise or apologise for him I respect him An amazing man His biography has made me see my city with new eyes It has made me see the homeless with new eyes, not the soppy, sorrowful middle class consciousness I previously saw them through I am wondering much practical things about the texture of their lives as Colin MacCabe puts it how does their community work Where do they sleep, where can they wash, where do they eat and how can any of that be changed How did Healy get off the street How did he manage to turn himself around Was it really just chess Some Idle Passion Chess and the Dance of Death see chess as one means of managing the tension Healy s term caused in an individual who doesn t like or understand normal society First Healy used drink as a way of relaxing him enough to interact then he found chess could perform the same function It s so interesting to think of chess as a crutch or even a vice in anyway comparable to alcoholism It s fascinating I want to read this again when I am a few years older and have accrued a bit life experience I would universally recommend this. I think it s criminal that this book isn t widely known and read It s a no bullshit account of his life as an alcoholic vagrant It s honest and true and what the fucking hell is wrong with this world that only 12 people on GR have read it Here re two articles on his life subsequent to the events in this autobiography What happened next , and Saved by the book. John Healy S The Grass Arena Describes With Unflinching Honesty His Experiences Of Addiction, His Escape Through Learning To Play Chess In Prison, And His Ongoing Search For Peace Of Mind This Penguin Classics Edition Includes An Afterword By Colin MacCabeIn His Searing Autobiography Healy Describes His Fifteen Years Living Rough In London Without State Aid, When Begging Carried An Automatic Three Year Prison Sentence And Vagrant Alcoholics Prowled The Parks And Streets In Search Of Drink Or Prey When Not United In Their Common Aim Of Acquiring Alcohol, Winos Sometimes Murdered One Another Over Prostitutes Or A Bottle, Or The Begging Of Money Few Modern Writers Have Managed To Match Healy S Power To Refine From The Brutal Destructive Condition Of The Chronic Alcoholic A Story So Compelling It Is Beyond ComparisonJohn Healy B Was Born Into An Impoverished, Irish Immigrant Family, In The Slums Of Kentish Town, North London Out Of School By , Pressed Into The Army And Intermittently In Prison, Healy Became An Alcoholic Early On In Life Despite These Obstacles Healy Achieved Remarkable, Indeed Phenomenal Expertise In Both Writing And Chess, As Outlined In The Autobiographical The Grass ArenaIf You Enjoyed The Grass Arena, You Might Like Last Exit To Brooklyn, Also Available In Penguin Modern Classics Sober And Precise, Grotesque, Violent, Sad, Charming And Hilarious All At Once Literary Review Beside It, A Book Like Orwell S Down And Out In Paris And London Seems A Rather Inaccurate Tourist Guide Colin MacCabe terrifying Review coming hopefully OK I ve changed the 4 stars to 5, mainly because I ve been sat thinking about this again, and can t get the voice, its insistence on truth and its brutal depiction of the world of the vagrant alcoholic out of my head This is one of the milder episodesWe could get no water to mix with it surgical spirit , so we went in the church and filled a milk bottle out of the holy water font and started slowly to swallow it But it s hard to get down first thing in the day any time for that matter Bastard stuff It either makes you dead sleepy and fit for nothing or drives you mad and ready to kill some cunt When I started the book I felt reading non fiction which I rarely do lacked the density at sentence level of fiction Too many clich s I felt eg six months flew by and we begged, borrowed or stole However I was wrong, the prose picked up a momentum and was actually quite beautiful in its pared to the bone way I did have a slight issue with the way women were depicted, on virtually every page an attractive woman passes by, with shapely legs or good tits or something and this did get a bit tiring But that was just his direct honesty coming out, and really you wouldn t want anything else Besides it s daft complaining about sexism when murder and mayhem are happening all around The alcoholic is ruthless anything for a drink nothing else matters Take this incident when a fight breaks out amongst his companions and Jock is stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle His shirt collar turned crimson his throat was bursting with it It bubbled up into his mouth, nothing could muffle the sound of the blood gurgling out between his fingers he d sort of gone to walk away, gone round in a small circle and then in a stumble changed his mind and began coming back towards us, blowing awful bubbles Healey doesn t help or even react much, he s just happy there s to drink I started drinking one of the bottles Now he was in the road The cars were swerving and hooting, just missing him whenever he blundered in the wrong direction It was comical really Blood splashed and exhausted, stumbling and jerking around, he was saved from toppling over by being bounced from car to car I watched for a while but he seemed to be making no progress at all, so I just got stuck into another bottle there was so much drink left you couldn t really believe in death.The book is stuffed with anecdotes about stealing, drinking, fighting, sexual desire usually not fulfilled , and is packed with great characters Healy s recall is astounding, full of detail He is a remarkable man, resilient, wiry, aggressive, incapable of dissembling And an excellent writer I remember seeing the film back in the 90s with Mark Rylance as Healy and it had the same raw amorality, its hunger for drink and its disdain for pretensions, I think It s a while since I saw it so I m going to chase it up Whitaker in his review has links to articles about what became of Healy after he replaced alcoholism with another addiction Albailart in his superb review says he d rather leave it up to the reader to find out what, so I m following suit. This was a book that I really came across by chance and its a rare, rough, gritty, carefully told autobiography of a life that is not usually told Healy was born to Irish parents in London and traveled back and forth across the UK during his young life His early life was brutal, with a father who was very abusive and who did not provide a solid upbringing for Healy He was a boxing champion by the time he was 16, was dishonorably discharged from the military and then lived the life of a wino in London While doing a prison stint, he traded his alcohol for chess and later became a chess champion He is self educated which is evident in his writing the prose is very raw but he is able to express himself in a way that allows one to connect and really understand the life of someone with real demons and who struggles with them throughout his life The reason this book was recommended to me is that it was recently in the news because penguin picked it up as a modern classic after it being out of print for several years He had a row with his previous publishers and threatened to chop all your heads off with an axe You cant make that stuff up Really raw and honest book.Not an easy read but really difficult to stop reading it.Such an amazing hard life described with no holds barred Highly recommend reading this book. This book came highly recommended You open the first page and you walk through a door into the mind and life of an alcoholic His degradation is sickening to read I really got sick to my stomach An alcoholic knows no line they cross them all until there is no where else to go It is either death or salvation John Healy had a noxious childhood Isolated by his mother and abused by his father, he staggered into drug and alcohol abuse to alleviate the pain in his body and soul Redemption comes in a strange form, not an easy book to read, gutter language crime jail time But a must read if you had any doubts as to alcohol being a disease of the body and mind. An incredible book This is an autobiography of a genuinely ex homeless man There is no mawkishness here, no sugar coating, just Healy s raw amoral truth I don t think I have sympathy for the homeless some of their crimes are appalling but I don t have less sympathy their lives are hideous than I had imagined What I did get is insight, which, looking around the streets of London, is, in this case, a terrifying thing It s worth noting too that Healy is a very good storyteller and also has a lyrical gift at times. Think William Burroughs s Naked Lunch 5 stars and then add chess as the turning point of the story I am not an alcoholic Neither am I a drug user, vagrant nor grew up in a dysfunctional family with abusive father I have not been into a sport but I box only as part of regular physical fitness My father and my two older brothers are good chess players When I was a young boy, there was a chess tournament in our hometown and my eldest brother got the first prize while the second got the second place I tried playing it but I just could not think prior to moving my piece This part in Healy s narration did not come to meAfter we d been playing for around two weeks, something clicked in my chess mind and I started to think before making a move, instead of making a move and then thinkingHealy was 30 when he started playing chess I am now 52 so even if I anticipate my opponent s move, I don t think I will be a great chess player Healy even saysTalent and youth that s what s needed for success at chess with the emphasis on youth So that s it I and this book has nothing in common and it could neither be an escapist book for me Towards the end, when Healy was in India, I even thought that he would be like Elizabeth Gilbert in her very popular and I don t know why Eat, Pray, Love 1 star Good that Healy did not go to Italy and Indonesia Otherwise, I would not have given this a 4 star rating that in Goodreads means I really like it So, why did I like this book The writing it felt sincere It is devoid of difficult words and literary style that sometimes are used by authors only to impress The telling is straightforward and the short sentences felt urgent and you can t stop reading while wondering if there is really that grass arena in the seedy part of London where guys with no bottles of booze can get killed or those who don t share bottles can get killed too.In summary, it is a self confession of an alcoholic in London Then he discovers chess and it brings him back to sanity.Thank you to Whitaker for swapping this book with my Noli Me Tangere My eldest brother, Joselito and our common friend Emir Never both of them are good chess players as well as bookworms are patiently waiting for me to finish this book so they can borrow Haha My brother says that this is a rare book and they ve been looking for this book since many months ago Only to find out that I have it in my to be read folder.A must read for all chess players and readers. I finished Modern Classics the Grass Arena An Autobiography yesterday and it was brilliant A gritty account of life as a homeless alcoholic in inner city London Healy doesn t hold back telling his life story of 15 years of homelessness and life with fellow alcoholics and the carnage caused in order to get the next drink He is not looking for sympathy, there is no great ethical or moral tale It is just the sheer truth of the situation which makes this so good.It is a part of life I have certainly walked past but never really thought too much about in daily life.Colin McCabe gives a really good afterword about the book, highly recommended Healy can describe characters in two sentences and you know exactly the kind of person he means
Is a well-known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the The Grass Arena: An Autobiography (Penguin Modern Classics) book, this is one of the most wanted John Healy author readers around the world.
- 272 pages
- The Grass Arena: An Autobiography (Penguin Modern Classics)
- John Healy
- 09 March 2017 John Healy