Review published on April 27, 2016.
David Coventry’s debut novel is based on the true story of the New Zealand team in the 1928 Tour de France, the first English speaking team to enter this gruelling race. Underprepared and under-resourced, they are scarcely expected to finish, but as they cycle through a France still marred by the ravages of the War, the narrator is forced to confront his own past.
Although this is a well conceived addition to the comparatively small genre of sporting literature – and this alone is sufficient to recommend the book – I found the overall result to be disappointing. I found the story difficult to follow and confusing, not helped by the ‘stream of consciousness’ writing. Similarly, the short sentences seemed to make the narrative more disjointed.
This seems particularly true of the ending. Although this can, perhaps, be justified on the grounds that it reflects the riders’ own state of incoherence, it appears to leave the book unfinished. Ultimately, If I understand it correctly, then the narrator paid a very high price.
At times, the writing does become more lyrical; starting to reflect the cadence of the cyclists themselves. Although there is no denying the suffering of the riders, it is perhaps unfortunate that the author’s best writing comes across as an encomium to pain. Similarly, although the narrator’s own recollections are confused, I found the similarities in human cost between the War and “Le Tour” striking.
Ultimately I find this novel disappointing, although in its defence, it does convey the hardships endured by the cyclists well. The inaugurator of the Tour de France once commented that the ideal cycle race would only have one finisher. The fact that, despite improved bicycle engineering, the race remains so challenging today suggests that his vision has been fulfilled.
The Invisible Mile by David Coventry
Picador 9781509822942 hbk Jun 2016