‘The Breath of Sadness: On Love, Grief and Cricket’ by Ian Ridley (2020)

I genuinely do not know how to review this book.

The Breath of Sadness is a book about grief. While it’s also about country cricket – the domestic multi-day format of cricket which has been gradually declining as shorter forms gain in popularity – it is mostly about Ian Ridley dealing with the loss of his wife Vikki Orvice, a talented and much loved sports writer.

Ostensibly the book is about the role cricket played in Ridley trying to deal with his grief. As the book says, attending the sport gave Ridley a destination, an activity, a peaceful place where he could grieve. As he put it, it allowed him to be “in solitude with but humanity still at hand. If I wanted, I could be distracted by the game going on in front of me, by its subtleties unfolding”.

Mostly however the book is a love letter to Ridley’s wife Vikki. I have to confess not being hugely familiar with her work (I don’t read the Sun newspaper which she worked for). While reading the book I regularly searched for previous pieces of her work and it is clear that the tributes she was paid for her writing talent are thoroughly deserved. It’s also clear from Ridley’s words that she was even more remarkable as a person.

I really feel I’m not doing the book justice here. It brought tears to my eyes at least 3 times while reading it. More than once I had to put it down. It is raw in the truest sense of the word. It is raw in a way that is difficult to read at times but written with a style and a talent that makes you eager to continue. It is also honest in a way that is as rare as it is refreshing.

We read books for lots of reasons – entertainment, light relief, intellectual curiosity and so much more. It is a rare book that makes you look at your loved ones a little differently, makes you appreciate them that little bit more, makes you grateful for them that little bit more.

The Breath of Sadness is not the type of book I normally read. While it captures something special about the shared experience of sport it is much more than that. It’s a heartbreaking book but a remarkable one.

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