BOOK CLUB: Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers

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Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers by Stephen McGrath is based on a true story. The book depicts the mood of the Australian public during the First World War.

Jimmy Sharman (a real historical figure) was a showman, and one of his endeavours was a travelling troupe of boxers. These young men went from town to town to pitch their tents. Sometimes this would coincide with an event like a local show; other times Jimmy’s troupe would be the sole attraction.

The boxers fought each other, and also locals who were eager to try to prove their mettle. Jimmy sometimes had to pay out prize money when one of those locals took down one of his men, but overall he made out well from the entry fees of both spectators and boxers.

However, things changed gradually but drastically when the First World War broke out. The country’s attitude to fit young men who didn’t enlist became increasingly sour, and then outright bitter. Many of Jimmy’s troupe wanted to “do their bit”. And over the years, the men they used to fight in each town disappeared.

The strength of the novel is in its depiction of the changing mood of the country. This was brought to life vividly. I felt it strongly, including the troupe’s reactions to the changing way they were treated.

The novel is told in a fragmentary style that reflects the troupe’s travels and the lack of opportunity to truly connect with many people. Although I felt this worked against character development, it gives the reader a strong sense of the men’s experiences as they move around the country.

Telling the story through the eyes of a travelling troupe allows McGrath to generate the sense that we’re seeing how the whole country reacted. This isn’t true, of course, and the novel is centred on one particular perspective: the feelings of young men who didn’t go to fight. Nevertheless, it’s a strong impression and one that’s fairly unique.

This is a very male story. Few women appear, and most of those who do are little more than caricatures. They’re accorded no personality or depth. This is not a novel that explores or even really touches on the female experience of war or the absence of men during it.

Although I didn’t wholly enjoy this as a novel, it’s an interesting historical fiction. It covers a perspective rarely explored and uses the mechanism of interesting historical facts (the boxing troupe). Readers who are interested in a story that takes an overview rather than telling an individual story in detail are likely to appreciate it, as are those interested in some lesser-known aspects of historical Australian culture.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers by Stephen McGrath. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

3 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers

  1. “Jimmy Sharmans Boxers” is a true Australian story revolving around the experiences of a travelling boxing troupe. Set in the turbulent times around World War One the book depicts the societal pressures for young men to enlist . Indigenous members of the boxing group suffered extreme racism . I did enjoy the book as it reminded me of the stories I was told by my uncles as a child . One uncle refused to enlist and was an outcast in the family and outer community . He suffered extreme depression but against the intense pressure he remained defiant . I can only imagine how difficult these times were for men to navigate especially if, like Jimmy Sharmans Boxers they chose to defy societal pressures. Stephen McGrath has obviously researched his topic well and has given a vivid portrayal of the intensity of societal constructs of the WorldWar One era .

  2. Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers is set around the First World War and being able to continue the boxing circus he has established. Jimmy has been a boxer since 11 years of age. Throughout the war he engaged and travelled with Chinese, Indigenous and white youths creating the Australian Travelling Boxing Troupes.
    A true story of loss, war, cowardice, conscription and struggles.

  3. Jimmy Sharman Boxers Australia’s ledgendary travelling boxing troupe .
    By Stephan McGrath .
    An interesting story a set in World War 1 time when boxing was a popular fair ground fixture but brutal.
    It tells the true story of Jimmy Sharman who was raised in a poor catholic family who became a tent boxer at only 11 years old .
    He blinds another boxer and never forgets for the rest of his life living with the guilt.
    But he goes on to run his own boxing troupe but Sharman has a bad temper ,
    He manages to create an unbeaten boxing troupe of different nationalities including indigenous boxers who coped with racism .
    There were also white and Chinese and Sharman coached them all to become famous.
    What an interesting story about the lives and triumphs of history a great read to learn about what went on in the travelling boxing troupe .
    I have only ever watched it on the movies but to read and get a true insight into the lives and sacrifices these men made is incredible.
    Thank you beauty and lace for the chance to read this heartwarming book.

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