by Jonathan Budds
Reviewed by Nick Dey
The cover tells the prospective reader so much; the despairingly single-minded Pantani-Armstrong-esque posturing, perhaps desperately imploring, to the cruel gods of victory, fortune and wealth. From the many hued brown tones on almost black, to the elongated limbs and warped, distended and shrinking body. All combine to suggest that we need to look beyond the obviously physical world of the professional racing cyclist and into the psychology of individual, sport and society. It is a book very much within the current self-evaluative zeitgeist of the sport. But not in the way you would immediately think. It is a novel of so much more.
Welcome to the first gothic novel set in the world of professional road cycling! Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write! This is sporting horror story full of wit, dark-humour, hope, insightful observations and unexpected and unpredictable plot developments.
Consumed, by Jonathan Budds, stands as wonderful novel in its own right.
It just so happens that pro-cycling is the chosen road of the protagonist. The book delivers on several levels and on the way delves deep into the psyche of isolated athlete, family, friends, teammates, lover, fans and, as topical as this is, medical doctor and associated cronies. It also holds a much needed mirror up to much of what dominates popular culture today.
It is almost impossible to impart detail, nuance, feeling and, unforgivably, plot without giving away the arcs of a very good, very, very well written story.
Congratulations Jonathan, you may well have penned the finest cycling novel to date.
In light of this critical disclaimer allow me to introduce you to twenty-seven year old Romain Mariani, professional cyclist (ranked 63rd in the world), native of a fictional Eastern European enclave, cricket loving son of an English mother and a brutal Eastern European former pro. Romain is a character to whom I took an instant liking, he’s someone I’d very much enjoy riding alongside, and that this positive engagement took place so early in the book is further testament to the penmanship of Jonathan Budds – who self-published by the way, but on this later.
We first meet Romain ascending the final climb of a stage race. The racing description here is somewhat reminiscent of Tim Crabbe’s The Rider. High praise indeed, but fully justified. All seems to be going almost to plan. Almost. He’s so close, there are just a few percentage points difference between him and the very best… But then, with the stage winner found dead, Romain finally arrives at the long aspired to yet dreaded cross roads. How will he handle the descent, both literal and metaphorical? And what unexpected twists does fate have in store?
Romain is, through his childhood experiences, vehemently and uncompromisingly anti-doping. But what is he to do? How can he bridge the tiny yet almost insurmountable chasm to the very top of his sport? He is at a cross roads with unexpected and long dreamed of (and feared) opportunities presenting themselves almost daily. Ah, the life of a promising pro. Much truth is hinted at here.
Meet Hans Banquo; Herr Wunderschön, Hansi the Conqueror. The leading rider of the day. Utterly dominant, yet approaching the end of a highly lucrative career. He may remind you of someone, just a little, but then again, perhaps not? Other characters enter the story but to describe them in any detail would give too much away. I can, however, dare to inform that there is amongst a smorgasbord of fascinating and often larger than life characters a rather odd and messianically obsessive doctor with the gothically obligatory oily assistant as front man, a girlfriend, also a leading but injured athlete, her highly driven and wealthy father, Romain’s family and village friends, a rather unpleasant Aussie pro with an unsettling mother-as-manager relationship, a gypsy community desperate to make ends meet, a philosophical taxi driver, and a mythical -or is it – giant wild boar called Golgotha. The latter of which both fascinates and haunts Romain. It all becomes rather more pro-tein than pro-team*!
It would be remiss of me to tell more of Romain’s tale as key plot details would be revealed and the joy of discovering his story for yourself, gone.
I can only urge you to read this excellent and, at least in my experience, unique novel*.
Still unsure if this book’s for you? Go to www.consumed-novel.com where you can download the first 10 chapters of the novel for free. There is also a limited edition musette pack containing a signed copy of the book, 200 hundred were produced, however I am not sure how many remain unsold (I bought one, it’s of real quality!)
As I’ve already stated, Jonathan self-published this superbly dark and witty book. His need to do so is, to my mind, a sad indictment indeed of the publishing houses and their narrowing priorities.
Jonathan, a veteran of twenty years in advertising, has competed in many cycling events including the Etape de Tour and the longest and largest bike race in the world, the Vätternrundan. Consumed is his first novel. His second, Chronic, in which a man is shot by his wife for no apparent reason, will be published later this year.
* vegetarians, vegans, plant-based athletes, and those with a sensitive disposition beware!
CyclingShorts Rating: 100%. A book I will certainly read again.
Available in Paperback and digital
RRP £15.00 +P&P (Limited Edition with Musette)
RRP £6.99 (Digital)
RRP £6.99 (Paperback)
How to buy:
- The limited illustrated edition (1 of 200) is available for £15 + Post and Packaging. Each 6″ x 9″ copy comes in its own specially-designed musette (cyclists’ feed bag) and is printed on 115 gsm paper, double the weight of the pages of a standard paperback. Available from the authors Consumed webpage: http://consumed-novel.com/buy-the-book/
- In paperback from Amazon UK for £6.29 (at date of writing): Click here to view in the Amazon Store
- In eBook format from Amazon UK Kindle Store for £2.62 (at date of writing): Click here to visit the Amazon UK Kindle Store