Ventoux, Bert Wagendorp (2015)

An enjoyable excursion with Dutch cycling chums who revisit teenage tumult from a middle-aged vantage

World Editions 978-94-6238-055-4 285pp paperback

Thirty years after a tumultuous ascent of Mount Ventoux, five childhood friends reunite to re-climb the fabled slopes and confront the demons that sundered them in the early 1980s.  Andre, Joost, Bart, David and Laura have arrived at their half-century with a fair cross section of career and relationship baggage.  Questions arising from their late teens remain unanswered, however.

Set in the eastern Netherlands, and written originally in Dutch, Ventoux is an exploration of the ties that bind friends together and the events that wrest them apart.  Its backdrop is a small-town and enthusiasm for the heroic qualities of professional cycling.  The narrative is full of enjoyably economic references to cycling mythology – Coppi’s infidelity, Hennie Kuiper’s new-year’s wishes and Tommy Simpson’s last drink among them. There are also plenty of references to music of the early 80s.

The pretext – a group of friends coming together to consider their lives after three decades – might be unexceptional.  Wagendorp has plenty of enlightening reflections that raise this from being an average pot-boiler, though.  There are also peculiarly Dutch features – the floating brothel, Gispen tables and the moral flexibility of ministers of religion among them.

Wagendorp – a newspaper journalist and already successful author – serves up enough surprises to keep you reading and keeps even his smugest characters the right side of likeable.  His evocation of the Giant of Provence is properly awestruck.  Ventoux might not quite equal The Riders, to which the author several times tips his hat, but it is an ascent that repays completion.

The translation is by Paul Vincent. Ventoux in its original Dutch was published in 2013 by Atlas Contact.

TD July 15 

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