Sunday, September 28, 2008

de renner / the rider - Tim Krabbé

In about the same time as it takes to complete a short road race I have ridden the English translation (from the Dutch) of De Renner, The Rider (1978). Tim Krabbé has done a marvellous job of recreating the experience of a road race. I don't believe anybody but a cyclist and an author could have written this novella so convincingly and with such authority. Its a deceptively simple book — the thoughts of the author as he struggles to win a fictitious race against fictitious opponents in the mountains of France. The book ticks through the kilometres at race pace, sometimes sluggishly, sometimes in bursts of pain, through wind and rain, up steadily and down awkwardly as Krabbé struggles on the high-speed bends. This is no time trial, Krebbé's opponents are an intimate part of his mental and physical tournament. They're written into the text at the level of detail that any rider knows his (or her) adversaries. This is true also of the rider's thoughts as he competes... the half-ideas, repetition of poorly-formed sentences, the struggles to remain focussed and the fluidity and stillness when the crowd and background is submerged are all captured with the efficiency of a practiced pedal stroke or the flick of a friction down-tube shifter. This is a great piece of literature: highly recommended for cyclists, cycling widows and anybody who doubts the poetry of the obsession for suffering on a bike. I'm still puffed!

[The author is also known for the disturbing story known in English as The Vanishing, which has twice been made into a film.]

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