Boy, does this novel lay it on thick. It is full of references to the island in the title, the history of Wimbledon especially in the early 1960s and what could be construed to be a rather naive, worshipful take on the mating rituals of upper class Brits and colonials during that period.
One chapter begins, "Winning Wimbledon certainly increases the invitations a girl has to lunch and dinner dances." Another starts off: "Harold drove Mark and me to Brown's in the Bentley." It's a long way from Serena hanging out with Kim Kardashian.
The book's heroine, who goes by the same name as the author (Fiona), has two boyfriends, both of them tall, dashing Englishmen, older and more sophisticated than she is.
The first boyfriend, revealed to be a cad, zooms around London in a sports car. One of the heroine's female friend-mentors, the previous year's Wimbledon champ, also bombs around town in a sports car. The second boyfriend, the husband-to-be, turns out to be the brother of the title holder. His wheels are a "little silver Porsche 356."
It's all parties and respectful servants and centerfolds from "Car & Driver" magazine as the heroine plays her way from qualifying to becoming the Wimbledon champ.
Oh, and, by the way, The Tennis Player From Bermuda is a beautifully-written book, which totally succeeds as a work of art. Three short chapters into it and the reader is moved by the relationship between the ingénue Fiona and her Bermuda-based coach, the taciturn, but slyly supportive Rachel Martin.
The emotional sureness of the writing, the characterization and the dialogue make The Tennis Player from Bermuda a success.
One way to look at Hodgkin's story is as a coming-of-age tale by a young woman who overcomes a number of obstacles to win Wimbledon and find the man of her dreams. Okay … it is kind of hard to make the second accomplishment not sound hackneyed even though the book is set a long time ago, but Hodgkin pulls it off.
And despite the fact that the heroine ends up with Mr. Right, it is a feminist story in a way as the character Fiona is guided by two strong, female coaches. She must reject the constraints of the early 1960s to follow her passion for the game. She also scores the husband and produces offspring that are themselves tennis champs. It is a period romance and an enjoyable one at that.
The very traditional nature of the story and distance in time left me sometimes tired of the Anglophilia and thinking, “Enough with the rain, give me some sunshine and a clay court,” happen to be the materials the author has chosen to work with. She wields them artfully and her well-constructed book succeeds on every level.
Since fiction is all about imagining other people's lives and if it is done well, enabling the reader to get some feel for what it would be like to be one of these characters, the perfect reader for any excellent novel, which is what this book is, is anybody with a drop of imagination. Still, given the specific contours of this book, if you could find a teenage girl, who is into tennis and interested in the history of Wimbledon and you could drag her away from watching Riff Raff videos on YouTube, she might be the perfect reader for The Tennis Player From Bermuda. But, then, so am I. You don't have to remember wood frames and white balls and have a bit of a sports car fetish to enjoy this book because the author flawlessly transports the reader into the world she has created.