Thursday, 19 April 2001

David Eddings: The Losers (1992)

Edition: HarperCollins, 1993
Review number: 799

Apart from his debut novel, thriller High Hunt, The Losers is Eddings' only attempt at something outside the fantasy genre. Interestingly, it has aspects in common with the much earlier novel, including the Washington state setting (though that is where Eddings lives) and a plot incorporating ideas about sibling rivalry (less literally here).

Raphael Taylor is bright, good-looking and athletic - a high school American football hero. When he goes to university, he meets the strange but fascinating Damon Flood, and is basically led astray. A drunken driving accident leads to the loss of a leg, and Raphael has to face up to life as a cripple.

Unable to face his friends, Raphael moves to a poor area of Spokane to begin his convalescence, only to become fascinated by the lives of those around him (in a Rear Windows kind of way). These people, living on the edge of crisis, unwillingly dependent on an institutionalised social services, are the losers of the novel's title.

The losers are really what the novel is about, and there are lengthy debates about what drives them and if (and how) they can be helped. A lot of what is said is criticism of the American social services, which, in Taylor's (and presumably Eddings') opinion, fails because it regards these people as a catalogue of problems to be matched against programs, rather than as individuals. It is, of course, an easy criticism to make of any enterprise of a large scale, and it is much more difficult to suggest anything which can
be done about it.

As a novel, The Losers is more interesting than successful, with the traces of arch humour characteristic of Eddings' fantasy novels seeming distinctly out of place. (This is particularly the case as some jokes are repeated word for word.) Raphael is not believable enough to hang the novel on; the loss of his leg has remarkably few psychological effects, and this combines with his role as observer to make him seem too detached from reality. Charles Dickens would have made wonderful characters out of the losers, and Eddings is no Dickens. The Losers is probably Eddings' most ambitious and least successful novel.

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