Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit is a story of a chess prodigy, her upbringing, her struggles and her success set at the backdrop of The Cold War. This post is about my book review of The Queen’s Gambit and my thoughts about it.
Eight year-old orphan Beth Harmon is quiet, sullen, and by all appearances unremarkable. That is until she plays her first game of chess. Her senses grow sharper, her thinking clearer, and for the first time in her life she feels herself fully in control. By the age of sixteen, she’s competing for the U.S. Open championship. But as she hones her skills on the professional circuit, the stakes get higher, her isolation grows more frightening, and the thought of escape becomes all the more tempting. Engaging and fast-paced, The Queen’s Gambit speeds to a conclusion as elegant and satisfying as a mate in four.
Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit Summary
Beth Harmon was orphaned at the age of 8 when her mother was killed in a car accident. She was brought to Methuen Home, an orphanage in Sterling, Kentucky. They were given a tranquilizer twice a day “to even their dispositions.” Beth liked taking it. In the orphanage, Beth was a smart student but a distant one. There she met Jolene, a black girl who was 2 years older than her. It was Jolene who became the closest person whom Beth can call a friend.
One day, when Beth was sent to the basement to clean the erasers, she found the janitor, Mr. Shaibel playing chess. She got curious of the game and convinced Mr. Shaibel to teach her. It became the start of Beth Harmon’s journey of being the child chess prodigy to becoming the U.S. chess champion and forcing the Chess World Champion, Vasily Borgov to resign during the finals game in the Russian Invitational. The Queen’s Gambit is set in the year 1950s to 1960s.
Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit Book Review by Book Estuary
I was actually introduced to the book by the Netflix series. I love the chess prodigy concept and the tension during chess games. I am not a chess player and I just learned the basic moves a few months ago so I cannot comment on how the games were played in the book. But, I saw the beauty and sophistication in playing it. I love the Netflix series but I want more. I want to look deeper at Beth Harmon’s head and emotions.
The Netflix series in most parts follow the book closely but nothing beats the joy of reading the story with your own eyes and making your own interpretation. However, I must say that the Netflix series has given justice to the book.
Quotes That Matter from Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit is great read. It’s a book that would make you love chess and the beauty in playing it. It’s about great characters in the person of Beth Harmon and the people around her like Mr. Shaibel, Jolene and Mrs. Wheatley. It shows realistic struggles and flaws of Beth Harmon as an unexpected chess prodigy. Her resort to tranquilizers and alcohol and how she overcame such a stage in her life is open for all interpretations but I’m glad she managed it. I admire Beth’s love and obsession with chess. I love how she rejected the financial support of a religious organization just so she would not be forced to make a statement that she did not believe in. For Beth, it is always about playing chess and winning every game.
“It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it; I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So, if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.”
“There had been a few times over the past year when she felt like this, with her mind not only dizzied but nearly terrified by the endlessness of chess.”
I like that Beth finds good in her being alone when she said these words in her mind,
“She was alone, and she liked it. It was the way she had learned everything important in her life.”
The Queen’s Gambit is also about women empowerment and this is shown in the quote below,
“And what did being women have to do with it? She was better than any male player in America. She remembered the Life interviewer and the questions about her being a woman in a man’s world. To hell with her; it wouldn’t be a man’s world when she finished with it.”
Overall Rating and Final Thoughts on Walter Tevis’ Queen’s Gambit
Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit is a timely read for me because this was the time when I was starting to learn chess. I enjoy reading through Beth Harmon’s mind because it is about a journey of a genius with real struggles and flaws which she eventually surpassed through her love of chess, her just beliefs and the help of good people who support her. Words will never be enough to explain how I love this story but it’s a great story that is very real and one of a kind. It’s a kind of story that completes me as a reader with its superb narration, one of a kind character, historical backdrop and many more. It’s a story that you will always find something to discuss and make a lot of interpretations. With all these things in mind, I give Walter Tevis’ The Queen’s Gambit my 5-star rating.