I read Anna Krien’s ‘Night Games’ nine months after in won the William Hill Sports Book Award here in the UK in 2014. In many respects, I’d ‘saved it up’, expecting a true slam dunk of a sports book. However, be warned, to me – this is not a sports book. It’s a book about rape, the legal system, and the intense intellectual dilemma that the very nature of rape as a crime, presents.
You can’t fault Anna Krien, a proven Australian journalist, for her writing style; nor the publisher for the choice of font and slightly odd size of book. The story rendered, that of a young Australian football player, being accused of rape and having to prove his innocence in a courtroom riddled with legal complexities and of course, the obligatory legal eagle barristers and solicitors armed with enough paperwork and bureaucracy to make your head spin. The prose is clear, the central arguments well outlined, and the emotional tones of a rape trial suitably acknowledged. And yet, I didn’t feel Krien had set out a hypothesis or given us any sense of what she was actually trying to prove with this book. As a result, its direction and aims were lost on me, and I rather floundered through the text rather than reading it and coming to a sound conclusion at the end.
Having looked at this book in Goodreads, I understand Krien was following the paths set by other seminal feminist writers on the issue of rape and trials, but that her predecessors in many opinions, were better. The problem with the case Krien chose to focus on (with full access to the accused family throughout the trial and including a seat next to them in court), is that the victim did not testify to a full room, and had a key part of the nights events (a party she attended where it is alleged numerous players from one team had sex with her), removed from the case itself. This was purely about asking the question ‘Did the accused in the dock, here, as we know him, rape the victim in an alley way, after she had left that house party?’. As an independent thinker, this had me questioning the validity of the case itself – how could a jury decide if she had consented with the accused, if she had just exited a house and a series of events that could have literally traumatised the girl at the centre of the case, to the extent she was in no fit state to offer consent or even rational understanding of the situations she was faced with? But Krien failed to acknowledge this and in many respects, there were other missed points in the book that prevent it being a work that would sit in a pioneering or important bracket in either the sports or feminist genre.
A book about rape and sports culture was never going to be overtly entertaining, but I was expecting more about the role of sport in Australian culture, in aggressive machismo, in the responsibility that should be instilled in young sportsmen and women the world over. I think, because of its William Hill success also, I was expecting a book with more sport in it. This was conspicuously absent and its to the books detriment. The court case is given a clean sheen, but at times the writing was much less entertaining and much more a simple collection of sociological comments from various field academics.
Disappointingly, I don’t think Anna Krien’s book will have much of a legacy. In the UK, this title I think benefitted from being released at the same time that a high profile footballer was released from prison having completed a sentence for rape; a media appetite for the book may have helped in its promotion as part of the ‘when is rape, rape?’ debate. But as a lingering piece of work on the subject, Night Games I fear will just fade into the shadows.
Rape is a highly contentious and controversial topic (indeed, Chrissie Hynde’s latest autobiography and the storm some of her comments have caused about women’s responsibility in a rape case reflect as much), but Night Games to me, fails to capture rape’s multi levelled conundrums and precarious legal standing. Given that Krien stepped up to such a topic, in my opinion she subsequently fails to take the reader to the key elements and dilemmas of the subject. Some of her personal opinions on events just ‘pop up’ without warning, leaving the reader feeling oddly placed and neither close nor distant from Krien; her role as an author presenting debate or a bystander simply relaying facts, is utterly unclear. This, combined with the distinct lack of sports writing in the book, make it a huge miss from me.
Overall score: 2/10
Who would play the main characters in a film: I seriously doubt any studio would take on this erratic and airy narrative when there are plenty of other more engaging and important essays and books on the topic.