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Book review: Sporting Moustaches by Aug Stone

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By Simon Demetriou

When I reviewed Aug Stone’s novel The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass, I found myself returning to, not to say butting against, the coolness of the book that didn’t quite translate to pleasure. What I didn’t dwell on was Stone’s capacity to view the world askew in a way that allows his narrators to display the comfort in oddity and the fluidity of linguistic play that characterises Stone’s comedy alter-ego, Young Southpaw, whose absurdist stream-of-consciousness monologues I encourage you to check out. Sporting Moustaches, 13 (well, why not?) short stories about the significance of facial hair in the evolution of sport, takes us into a similarly skew-whiff universe, and this time I’m glad to say I enjoyed myself more.

The brazen pun in the title makes clear that Stone’s book is here to play, subtlety be damned. In fact, so exuberantly madcap are the stories that when read continuously, Sporting Moustaches feels like being gently bludgeoned by a tender lunatic. From the opening story of a 19th century ice hockey player pulling in the crowds and racking up the goals with his abundant moustache wound always about his stick, to the baseball player whose self-grooming efforts have the unintended consequence of partially blinding him, to the highly cultured football coach who insists on specific beard sculpting for each player’s position, to the drinkers competing to most audaciously down a shot using hair rather than hands, there’s no let up.

Equally continuous are the lovely little observations (like a batter’s .333 average resembling ‘triple moustaches lined up on top of each other, all hung over the end of a bat pointing towards the bleachers’ when looked at sideways) pop-culture references (I love the archer who invents online dating), and lines that drip with unselfconscious absurdity: ‘It takes a special type of badminton player to want to go up against an avian swarm’. Sure does.

This ceaselessness forms the book’s greatest strength, but also one of its weaknesses. While the sports may change, the pitch doesn’t, which means that for all its wit, reading too many stories back-to-back can be draining. Of course, the wise reader without a deadline to stick to can simply dip in and out. My second complaint is slightly embarrassing – for me. Subordinate clauses used as standalone sentences. Young Southpaw does this all the time, but the laws of spoken English mean that’s fine – good, even. When Aug Stone does it, the grammar-Nazi winces.

The real message, then, is that – perhaps oddly for a book on sport (ish) – this isn’t one for the fanatical. Relax, read as and when the humour takes you, and forget rules. Just enjoy the sweet derangement of Sporting Moustaches.

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