in the guardian newspaper's g2 section, around once a week, there is a rather cynical attempt at a book review entitled the digested read, a review which can often be lengthier than those i place in these black and yellow pixels, with little attempt to be serious but usually a serious attempt to be critical. at the very, very end of the same column is the digested, digested read encapsulating the entire volume in half a dozen or so words.
leaving aside the cynicism, i find myself in two minds over these last few words. if the author has gone to the trouble to compose the text which covers several hundred pages, and the publisher has gone to considerable trouble to include the book in its publishing schedule, send out review copies and have several hundred or thousand sales copies printed, surely it is only fair that the end result be given not only a fair hearing, but have more than a few words aimed in its direction?
but then again, often all that is needed, perhaps, are a few well chosen words of recommendation or dismissal to advise whether the book is worth considering in the first place. publishing really is that cut-throat. the failing in this latter ploy is accepting the veracity of the reviewer's words. is the reviewer of a similar mind to your own; what were his/her reasons for liking/hating the volume under question in the first place; do they have such a high opinion of themselves that you should accept without questioning? the right and proper criteria by which a book should be judged is to purchase a copy and read it for yourself.
such action would have me occasionally searching for alternative subject matter with which to fill these pages, though that is hardly your concern.
if i were to resort to a digested, digested read of the latest to spring from author richard moore, it would consist of something like greg didn't trust bernard, but won the race anyway. a total of nine words, encapsulating what amounts to 283 pages of narrative. (there may well be illustrations to accompany, but my proof copy was bereft of such.) not in a million years would i ever agree that those nine words could substitute for a lengthier review of slaying the badger because, while my brief precis is perfectly valid, that is merely the superficial outcome of the book, and tells nothing of the principal and supporting cast members.
moore's contention that this was the greatest ever tour de france may not sit well with everyone; many will have their own favourites and many a reason as to why that is the case. richard would, i believe have no argument with that; "i make the argument, with the subtitle of this book, that this was the greatest ever tour de france. it's an entirely subjective opinion, of course, which even owes to very personal, and objectively irrelevant, factors, such as my impressionable age (thirteen) and the fact that it was the first broadcast in its entirety on british television."
having read the book twice now, i feel i am inclined to agree, though perhaps if a subsequent volume depicted another version of the tour with such painstaking research and accuracy, i'd go along with that too. i have thought long and hard for another year to rival this assertion, if only because it would make me seem more scholarly than is actually the case, but i failed. rarely have the principal protagonists in any tour de france been riding for the same team. it is a net result of cycling's internal politics that, in the absence of a designated team leader from the outset, the rider who appears to be inhabiting the upper reaches of the gc with panache and vigour will, by default, assume the role. and in modern times, that dictates that none of the other riders in the team would dare to ride against this team leader. at least not if they had their eye on a contract for the following season.
such politicising and acceptance of the unwritten rules of professional cycling, often open to differing interpretation on a daily basis should, in this case be mitigated by what bernard hinault did or did not say on winning the 1985 tour de france. rather than aim for (at the time) a record breaking six tour victories, in deference to team-mate lemond's perhaps unwitting assistance in '85, hinault said he would return with the sole aim of helping lemond to yellow in '86.
of course, with hinault, while that was certainly the gist of the statement that lemond took to be the case, the badger may just have spoken with forked tongue. a re-consideration of his words may not have been a personal volte-face; though hinault was surely one of the most surly and single-minded charcaters to inhabit the sport, he was not without his own susceptibilities to external influences. the french fans, for one, and owner of la vie claire bernard tapie (who warrants an entire book of his own), who seems almost to have thrived on the implication that hinault and lemond might just be adversaries rather than cuddly team-mates.
in the writing of this book, richard moore continues to display and extend his well-earned reputation for exhaustive research. while many would shy from visiting the modern day hinault to ask what amounts to some searching questions that you figure the badger would really rather avoid, moore travelled to hinault's farmhouse and had the temerity to arrive early. he also flew to the usa to talk to greg and kathy lemond, a relevance that can be easily explained given that mrs lemond was one of the first wives to be omnipresent during the three week race in july. he has also spoken to the slightly eccentric, paul kochli the swiss who was the revolutionary choice of team coach, and to andy hampsten and other members of the 1986 la vie claire team.
still, talking to each, the badger's reputation not withstanding, is the easy bit. putting all that was revealed into context in such a masterly, relevant and intriguing fashion is a skill all of itself. the victor was known to you and i before even the contents page had been given a cursory glance, yet the narrative imposes a necessity to read to the very end to find out if greg really did win the 1986 tour de france. even after the two riders had crossed the line at the summit of alpe d'huez, virtually arm in arm, the best of buddies. hinault had been allowed to take the stage, but lemond now had well over two minutes in hand with merely the final time-trial to go. victory was assured.
despite lemond being acknowledged as a better time-triallist than the badger, at the press conference subsequent to the alpe d'huez stage, hinault averred that "it isn't over yet". down to the wire. now you're all off to wikipedia to check who really did win.
a digested, digested read would never have done this book justice; plain and simple
'slaying the badger' is published on 26th may 2011 by yellow jersey press at £12.99
posted tuesday 26 april 2011