Decades after losing a companion on Mont Ventoux, five friends reunite to make peace with the mountain—and each other—by cycling it once more.
In the summer of 1982, six teenagers travel from their home in Holland to Provence. Three of them—Peter, a rising star in the poetry world; Joost, a gregarious math genius; and Bart, the narrator—plan on biking up Mont Ventoux, a brutal climb steeped in cycling history. The other three—David, the steady homebody; André, the pothead; and Laura, the beautiful, brilliant woman with whom all five men are, in their own ways, enamored—tag along for the camaraderie. The ascent, though grueling, is a success, but Peter dies while descending, and his surviving friends, each carrying a new cargo of guilt and confusion, go their separate ways. Thirty years later, they remain estranged. Bart is a crime reporter, André is a forcibly retired (i.e. “acquitted due to lack of evidence”) high-end drug dealer, Joost is an underhanded but prizewinning physicist, and David (who still dislikes travel) owns a successful travel agency. No one has heard from Laura. So when she makes contact, they’re eager to reconvene (with bikes) in Southern France to analyze what they were and what they’ve become. Though debut novelist Wagendorp excels in his depiction of middle-age male friendships, Laura, the love object, is less convincing and at times seems more like a device than a person. The novel is further hamstrung by overly self-conscious literary elements (it is not enough, apparently, for a book to be concerned with past and present; one must add a string theorist’s thoughts on timelessness to the mix) and excessive, blockbuster-style plotting. But for every flaw, the humorous rapport between the longtime friends offers serious counterweight: André: “Sorry…for all those years of silence. I should have responded, at least to the announcement of your daughter’s birth.” Bart: “I expect you were busy.” André: “Pretty.” Bart: “No excuse, bastard….She’ll be 21 soon.” André: “Yes, well anyway, congratulations on your daughter’s birth.”
A wise, funny, eminently quotable, but woefully overplotted feel-good novel about cycling, friendship, aging, and the remedial nature of athletics.