I am now reading the final stages of the novel Nana by Zola. I am inclined to say that I am in the final furlong as I’ve just read the amazing sequence set at the Grand Prix de Paris horse race at Longchamp. This occasion is a crucial turning point in the novel as it marks a high-water mark in the eponymous hero’s social ascent. Moreover, the horse that bears her name comes home first in defiance of the odds, a result which eventually leads to the death of her lover, its owner, Vandeuvres.
This sequence is wonderfully written (I should say that I’ve read it in translation). It is an exhilarating piece of prose that manages to capture the thrill of the occasion whilst simultaneously offering a devastating social portrait. During the depiction of the race itself I actually found myself caring about which horse won.
This sequence reminded me of an equivalent scene in an even more brilliant novel – namely, the horse race in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which was published just three years earlier. Tolstoy’s prose is, in this passage, viscerally exciting and filled with danger.
Now I’m trying to think of other great sporting scenes in classic literature. I’m thinking here of texts that are not explicitly sporting texts. There is, of course, the great Poirot novel by Dame Agatha Christie, The Murder on the Links.
Can you think of any others?