Consumed, Jonathan Budds (2012)

A well-written and thought-provoking entertainment

Quarto 293 pp, £6.29 Kindle Version £2.63

Cycling’s pharmaceutical Fall should provide rich pickings for those in search of morality tales. Indeed, the Faustian pact implicit in intravenous performance enhancements is almost too crude for the audiences of Marlowe and Goethe. And given the relative paucity of factual information about cheating in cycle sport, it is surprising that rather more writers have not explored the issues in fiction.

In this novel, Budds’ central character, Romain Mariani, is a mid-career cyclist on the cusp of greatness. He hails from an anonymous, too-awful-for-words, former Soviet republic. A good end to his racing season results in a dream offer from the sport’s biggest team. From there on, however, Mariani’s life is beset by problems that are gothically disturbing, even by the standards of a sport where blood the consistency of strawberry jam is considered normal.

The plot has a driving quality that keeps the pages turning, but along there way there plenty of peripheral tableaux of equal quality. Out hero’s father is a washed up racer from the first generation of ‘iron-curtain’ riders in the 1990s professional peloton. His sporting career and health, ruined by drug abuse and followed by life on a filthy pig farm are the hell from which Mariani seek’s to escape. His putative father-in-law is a Swiss business colossuses with an internationally competitive ice skater for a daughter. All add something to the story, as does Budds’ effective evocation of places – be they Fagendistan, Switzerland or London. Even the fictional pro-circuit that Budds conjurs up, has a clear ring of truth.

Consumed’s strongest quality, however, is that the protagonist is both believable and likeable. Considered on the day after Lance Armstong’s interview with Oprah was aired, those might not seem like typical qualities of a cyclist who is tempted to cheat. But while the Texan left me wondering whether the penance existed that would entitle him to a flicker of forgiveness, I was, by the end of this storyline, willing events to turn in Mariani’s favour. Whether, at the tale’s conclusion, you think the cyclist gets his just deserts, will depend on your own humility.

A self-published, first novel, its true, but Consumed deserves a place beside Bad To The Bone and The Rider.

TD Jan 13

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