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The Divers' Game

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  196 ratings  ·  55 reviews

A pair of girls, Lethe and Lois, navigates the perimeters of a segregated city, armed with canisters of killing gas. Another child, Lessen, is at the centre of a bizarre cultural ritual that could be the subject of a Goya painting.

Centring on the garish festivals of an allegorical nation, The Divers' Game moves through worlds in which kindness is no longer meaningful. A scathing indictmentpainting.


Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Published September 12th 2019 by Granta Books (first published September 10th 2019)
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Katherine Kingma I would give this book to a precocious thirteen year old, but I am lenient about this sort of thing.

Reasoning: No sexual abuse, no heavy use of…more
I would give this book to a precocious thirteen year old, but I am lenient about this sort of thing.

Reasoning: No sexual abuse, no heavy use of profanity, but the book features some physical abuse. The descriptions of physical abuse aren't grisly, but they are emotionally wrenching. **SPOILER** The last chapter is a suicide note from a wife to her husband, in which she expresses her deep regret for murdering one of the society's second-class citizens. She discusses some of the details of the murder. **END OF SPOILER**

The gravity of the content is to be expected, given the seriousness of the book's subject: how one group of people can go about dehumanizing and torturing another group of people without feeling empathy or guilt.
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Average rating 3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  196 ratings  ·  55 reviews

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May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa, 2019-read
If Jesse Ball's mind was an actual place, I'd love to travel there: I'm sure it would be spellbinding and full of weird surprises, riveting, strange and disturbing. No one writes about human cruelty and its consequences like this guy, and no one employs the enlightening power the perspective of a kid can provide - far away from any cheap kitsch - like the winner of last year's Gordon Burn Prize (for Census, a tribute to his dead brother). To write like this, you have to have deep moral convictions, a s ...more
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
With simple, direct prose, The Divers' Game reads like a dark fable, or perhaps a folktale beamed backwards through time from a distant future. It's a dystopian other-worldly setting, in which our present civilisation has passed out of living memory; where "zoos" are more like museums of extinction, and citizens arm themselves with canisters of brightly coloured gas to be deployed with lethal force against the immigrant classes, at the slightest affront.

The novel comprises four short set pieces — s
Roman Clodia
Sep 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've seen reviews which discuss this as a future dystopia but for me it's a veiled fable about now. Ball offers up a world divided and ghettoised, where the 'haves' can kill at will, where the 'have nots' (specifically refugees and criminals released from prison) are non-persons without legal rights.

It's a world that lacks compassion and empathy, where language has been redefined so that the culture can embrace violence while still calling itself non-violent, where fear and insult are common cu
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best dystopian novels pick the themes of their time, extend them into the future and present the reader with an all too plausible nightmare society.

Imagine a society with a refugee crisis. Then imagine a society that responds to that refugee crisis not by rejecting the refugees but by allowing them to stay as long as they are physically marked so that everyone knows who belongs and who does not. Imagine then that these “others” in society are stigmatised and often subject to viol
Paul Fulcher
The Divers' Game is the latest novel from Jesse Ball, the 4th of his I have read, and someone who is fast emerging as one of our most interesting modern-day writers.

It looks like it’s about a very violent society that pretends it isn’t violent at all.

It smells like licorice left in a hole.

Source: A hyena who searched Jesse Ball's house in 2018 and found the draft of this novel
Thought provoking and in your face. Jesse Ball is everything 🖤

“What kind of suicide is it to kill in the world what you find in yourself?”
Gumble's Yard
Aug 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Dive down. You just dive down and find the hole, then it starts. I mean you crawl. For one pond to the other. The divers’ game.

the part where you pull yourself into the hole is the worst. Because from there you just have to go on. You have to trust that the tunnel’s the same [as it was last time]

This book tends to be reviewed as set in a near-future dystopia, one which imagines a societal approach to mass immigration (and to undesirables) that seems only a logical extension of current trends
Jessica Woodbury
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, speculative
I have attempted a couple of times to read a Jesse Ball book, waiting for the one that was right for me. Ball is not exactly my perfect fit, he's more of a literary impressionist while I tend to stick to more realism. With THE DIVERS' GAME I was able to get engrossed in the world Ball created quickly. And even though it isn't my perfect fit as a plot person, I really enjoyed the look into the dark world he's created.

There are a lot of ways to mess up a dystopian novel, but it turns o
Chris Haak
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jesse Ball has his own special way of looking at the world that amazes me again and again. In this novel he looks at migration and creates a dystopian civilization that really got to me. People can be goddamn awful if society's laws allows them to do so...
Thank you Harper Collins and Edelweiss for the ARC.
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
I think it's time for me to concede that while I admire the ideas and wider themes of Jesse Ball's novels they don't ever seem to quite work out for me.

The Lois/Lethe storyline grabbed me - there was more world building in this section, and I loved the section in the zoo - but it was over way too soon and unfortunately the other three stories failed to hold my interest, being a bit vague for my liking. If you're a fan of dystopia and this sounds up your street then I think it's worth
Laura Peden
Sep 10, 2019 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Narrated by Sophie Amoss....twist my arm.
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jesse Ball is a marvel of a writer. Each book of his that I’ve read – The Curfew, Silence Once Begun, A Cure for Suicide, How to Set a Fire and Why – has been inventive, imaginative, and often, transformative. So it is small wonder that I wanted to be an early reader for this, his latest.

Certainly these dark and unsettling times have informed this dystopian novel, in which the world is divided into two groups: quads and pats. The pats are the privileged country natives and the quads
Peter Tillman
NPR review by Hugo Award-winning editor Jason Heller:
"Dystopian stories are, in essence, thought experiments. And few come as thoughtful as The Divers' Game.

The latest novel from acclaimed author Jesse Ball depicts a world both unimaginably unjust and all too believably cruel: Society has been split into two distinct halves, the pats and the quads, with the former group given unchecked supremacy over the second. It isn't the most original premise in dystopian fiction, but Ball cl
Jessica Sullivan
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-read
There is no contemporary author quite like Jesse Ball.
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this, but wish I had known it was separate vignettes with not much in the way of resolutions. I kept waiting for plots to tie together and for endings that didn't come. But taking it as a group of creepy dreamy mood pieces, it was effective and it is sticking with me, in an upsetting way.
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A stark, gut-wrenching look at a dystopian future that is both fully formed and entirely plausible. THE DIVERS’ GAME grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the last page. Bell has created unforgettable characters and and a chilling story about a new society that clearly divides those who have, and those who don’t. I don’t want to give much away, because the discovery of the world is one of the best parts of the book, but know it’s a tough read from an incredible writer.
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jesse Ball can do no wrong and here he out Attwoods Attwood with a terrifyingly plausible take on an alternative present. For fans, think of it as a companion of sorts to The Curfew.
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Out Sept. 10, 2019: I love Jesse Ball. Census served as my introduction to his work (and the ending made me sob).

No crying this time around, just a lot of chills and breathless page turning. Ball created such a fully formed dystopian setting, rife with conflict. His young characters, many of which find themselves embroiled in the most horrific snares of the book, offer up gut punch after gut punch until the final devastating section; an ending that had me wanting to go back into the fray all ov
Joachim Stoop
Not my favourite Ball
Tonstant Weader
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Diver’s Game is a painful book to read in Trump’s America. It is set in a society that has embraced inequality, not only of outcomes but of opportunities. Ball imagines a society that feels beset by refugees. They decide to let them in if they can tell them apart from the citizens or pats. So they brand them with a red hat on their faces. Then they cut off their thumbs. Then they decide they have no standing in law so any action against them, even killing them, is not violence. Then they seg ...more
Joy Clark
This is not what I would consider an "enjoyable" book. It's far too profound and existentially upsetting to be enjoyable. Honestly for the first 3/4, I was planning to give it 2 stars. It wasn't until the final few chapters that the brilliance of Jesse Ball became apparent. Perhaps it was just my tired brain missing the important stuff (I do most of my reading at night), but things didn't quite make a lot of sense until closer to the end. Some great quotes in here, but since I read an ARC (thank ...more
Sarah Furger
Sep 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"... - let me say, we never live but by taking resources that might have gone to another. We are hungry; our greed knows no bounds, and in the course of a life we consume what we must to proceed. We think that is fair."

Jesse Ball may be one of the most important writers of the day and proves it with this short but fascinating novel. What if compassion wasn't inherent to the human experience? A horrible thought but it forces the reader to look inward and analyze all while thoroughly engrossed in
One Sentence Reviews
I’m usually at a loss for words after reading Jesse Ball, but it’s never stemmed from complete indifference until now.
Shira Selkovits
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pub Date: September 10, 2019.

Jesse Ball creates a fascinating dystopian world and allows us to see it through the eyes of young people. Their perspective on violence and other societal horrors prove to be cavalier at times, as this is the only way of life they’ve ever known. Sharp and dark.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Brian Hendricks
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Among my favorite books by Ball. Bitter tea of a book.
Caleb Masters
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Divers’ Game does what dystopian fiction does best: giving us a powerful, haunting glimpse at the future by amplifying the realities of today. Society is clearly divided into two groups, the “pats” who maintain they are the original inhabitants of their country, living in privilege; and the “quads” marked immigrants without rights who live in giant, lawless ghettos. Ball’s book is incredibly written; precise detail sketching out just enough of the world to let the reader fill in the rest. Presci ...more
Robert Kopp
I don’t get it.
My Q&A with Jesse Ball for the Chicago Tribune:

Jesse Ball’s work has been described as “genius” by the late Alan Cheuse in the pages of this very publication, and over the course of his abundantly productive career to date, he has built up an ardent following among fans and critics. Winner of the 2008 Paris Review George Plimpton Prize, Ball was a both a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lion Prize and long listed for the National Book Award for fiction in 2015, and wa
Aug 16, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Allen Adams

Speculative fiction has been used as a vehicle to comment on societal woes for about as long as there has been speculative fiction. In the right hands, the flexibility of genre opens up a tremendous literary toolbox, one that offers a combination of wildly vivid creations and complex cultural commentary.

Hands like Jesse Ball's.

Ball’s latest novel is “The Divers' Game.” It’s a story of a society not so unlike our own, one extrapolated out from our current place in
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Jesse Ball (1978-) Born in New York. The author of fourteen books, most recently, the novel How To Set a Fire and Why. His prizewinning works of absurdity have been published to acclaim in many parts of the world and translated into more than a dozen languages. The recipient of the Paris Review's Plimpton Prize, as well as fellowships from the NEA, the Heinz foundation, and others, he is on the fa ...more