The Cardturner  

by Louis Sachar
Published by Bloomsbury

A book for teenagers about bridge? This is a risk, a real risk, as Louis Sachar, celebrated author of Holes, admits in his introduction to his new novel The Cardturner. He says: ‘My publisher, my editor, my wife and my agent all said I was crazy. No one’s going to want to read a book about bridge!’

So who is right? Let’s wait awhile before we make our judgement.

Our hero Alton is asked to be the cardturner for his blind, irascible, rich old uncle Lester, a bridge master. Under a great deal of pressure from his mother to behave well so that the family can benefi t from his will, Alton is reluctant to put up with his uncle’s foibles. However, he cannot help but be intrigued by his uncle, by the dark family secrets surrounding him, and eventually by the mindboggling game of bridge. He is also, as most teens are, troubled in love – dumped by Kate in favour of his best mate Clifford, and intrigued by Toni, Lester’s former cardturner.

Alton carries us, the reader ignorant of the bridge, along with him as he tries to master the game himself, setting out the rules in an innovative, easy to understand format. We’re with him as he goes on his journey to self-discovery, finding a way through the maze of what is real and what is perception. These are some of the issues shared by young people – as they realise the world is not organised in the way they thought, where adults, make mistakes and the answers are not revealed in black and white.

What they will not recognise is the mystical turn the book takes – and herein lies the weakness. Would straight-as-a-dye Alton really believe his uncle was talking to him in spirit? I’m not so sure.

This is a shame because I was enjoying the challenge of learning bridge with Alton, watching the young people, almost despite themselves, picking up the game and observing Alton’s rite of passage. It’s not the bridge that is a risk, it’s the mysticism.

Review by
Allison Johnstone