Tuesday, 24 February 2009


In speaking to a friend over the weekend about renewing our cycling habit, I was reminded about some of my favourite books that feature - as the French elegantly have it - la petite reine.  In best Oscar fashion, this is my list of award winners.

The obvious winner of Best Book, given that it's the greatest novel ever written*, is Flann O'Brien's profoundly lunatic The Third Policeman.  This book features, among other attractions, people turning into bicycles (and vice versa); blundering policemen with the ultimate cosmic power at their disposal and a biography of a fictitious inventor (one of whose projects is an attempt to dilute water) the footnotes to which gradually grow to overcome the text.  I've read this work of genius many times, and have never tired of its disturbing brilliance.

In the Charmingly Whimsical (But not Without Genuine Pathos and Wit) category, step forward The Wheels of Chance, H.G. Wells' comic turn starring a London draper for whom a cycling holiday offers a temporary escape into an English rural idyll and the tantalising possibility of a daring romance.  An effortless and wonderful dissection of class, manners and psychology, and a very good reflection of how the bicycle transformed life for the low to middling British person.

Finally, in the Book Which is Less Well-Known but Arguably Better than its More Famous Counterpart category, we have, making a diffident but humorous acceptance speech, Three Men on The Bummell, by Jerome K. Jerome.  This novel features the familiar protagonists from the boating excursion taking to the pedals on a European tour and boasts, among other hilarious set pieces, a scene in which a fanatical but dazzlingly inept cycle maintenance enthusiast persuades the narrator to 'tune up' his bicycle to the extent that it ends up lying in irreconcilable pieces across his yard.

To round off the show, here comes the slightly contrived Capuchin link, to George Bernard Shaw, one of a group of left-leaning thinkers and writers who embraced the bicycle as a tool of social liberation.  GBS, of course, wrote the boxing novel Cashel Byron's Profession, which we are reissuing later this year.

Quotation of the day
"Is it about a bicycle?".  From The Third Policeman.


*This is simply an a priori universal condition of truth, and I will enter into no disputatious colloquy regarding the contra-substantiation thereof whatsoever.  

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