For a novel that features boxing it would be appropriate, if kitschy to trot out all of my boxing metaphors. It might be a cliché, but clichés are clichés because they often hold at least a grain of truth: so here I go. The Fair Fight is an absolute knock-out. If this novel was a prize fight it would be the Thriller in Manila. To make myself absolutely clear, leaving the cheesy pugilistic metaphors aside, The Fair Fight is the best book that I have read in a long time.
The Fair Fight is the story of Ruth, born in a brothel and fated to a life of drudgery until she discovers her love of bare-knuckled boxing. We also follow the story of Charlotte, born an aristocrat but scarred by smallpox, trapped by the twisted whims of her drunken brother, and later in a loveless marriage with a man, Granville, who cares only for gambling. He manages, or exploits, first Ruth, and later her husband Tom, whom he believes can be the Champion. Eventually Ruth meets Charlotte, and begins to teach her how to box, setting them both on a journey that will change both of their lives.
The narration is shared between Ruth, and Charlotte, and George, another sporting gentleman who is Granville’s friend and confidante. All of their voices are different, distinct, and beautifully realized. Although I was practically cheering by the end of this book it is not all flowers and rainbows. Like boxing its beauty is bound up with violence, and blood. Fighting is at the heart of this book, and no one in it fights harder than the two women at the story’s center. They have a lot to fight about, as well; the class system, poverty, and the absolutely crappy way in which women were treated in the early nineteenth century.
Their bravery in facing a world in which most of the deck is stacked against them is truly inspiring, and although this book is full of hard knocks, Ms. Freeman has such style and tells her tale with so much heart and caring that I almost found myself jumping up and down at the end. I came to care for these character so much that I literally dreaded the end, even as a rushed toward it, propelled by the sheer force of Ms. Freeman’s story.
To return to my earlier metaphors, Anna is the Champ.