"We who had come to discover
found ourselves discovered
and, in the process, discovered
This book has been written with a great deal of pride as it weaves a narrative around the facts of the first New Zealand All Blacks your back in 1905. The Originals, as they came to be known, faced not just the mind boggling adventures of being overseas but turned from unknown names on a ships passenger list into famous legends.
They faced cheating, hostility and petty acts of jealously but above all they found fame as they toured England, Scotland, Wales, France and played a couple of games in the US. The record of the tour is staggering with only one defeat, and that is still being debated, and a points tally that rightly made them legends.
What Jones does is takes a largish cast of people and in a style that reminds you of a diary or even poetry weaves a story from the moment the boat leaves New Zealand to its arrival in England. The team, which struggles with homesickness and the conditions but maintains a pride in its performance that last until the very end.
An author using the skeleton of facts about team selection and scores has the option to either stick largely to the facts and fill in the blanks with a narrative based on diaries or to depart from reality and go off into the flights of fantasy. Jones is sympathetic, almost in awe, of the characters and that comes across in this book. But it also chimes in with his larger themes as a writer.
There is a theme that echoes Mister Pip which is about the idea of taking yourself out of a location and seeing how the changed environment helps you discover yourself. here the team find that away from what they know, the sights and smells of home, they are not only drawn closer together but in those moments of leisure time find themselves developing interests in different things, art and culture, and see sights that will never leave them. Going through that experience is as important as the scores run up at the thirty odd games they played on tour.
Although the All Blacks are now an almost invincible rugby team the 1905 tour was a period when they were not only completely unknown but when the black kits with the silver fern leaf were first introduced. The legend that most of us now take for granted was born on that tour. Despite that Jones leaves you wondering at the end of the book just why so little has been done to commemorate the achievements of the Originals. Even as someone completely unfamiliar with those men and their achievements you end up feeling the same. But of course The Book of Fame is its own commemoration and one that takes the legend of the All Blacks to a completely.