Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Grand Prix Saboteurs – Joe Saward

I have had this book for some time, but haven’t managed to pluck up the courage to pick it up and start it. Our Easter vacation in Portugal provided the impetus, and I found myself gripped before the aeroplane even took off.

Why should I have needed courage? Well, partly because I hold Joe in high regard – his writing is good, his intellect is strong and his memory phenomenal. In all areas, he is my superior. I guess I was afraid of having my inadequacies exposed. I needn’t have worried. This is an excellent book that will appeal to readers of many different backgrounds.

The narrative flows beautifully, and even though the detail is intense, this does not interrupt the enjoyment. I would hate to be submitted to a full examination to test my assimilation of the facts it contains, for there are too many. In terms of facts, the reader is fairly assaulted. I was reminded of the early Nick Park Wallace and Gromit films, in which it took three days to film two seconds of the film. I had an image of Joe, surrounded by books in a dusty archive somewhere in France, seeking to find just one name to insert into a paragraph, which already had twenty names in it.

I exaggerate. Not much though. But through this intensity of facts, two emotions come flooding out, filling me with admiration. First for the bravery of the folk around whom story revolves – principally the pre-war drivers William Grover, who won the first ever Monaco Grand Prix under the pseudonym W Williams, and Robert Benoist, who won the twenty-four hours of Le Mans in 1937, with the third chief character in the book, Jean-Pierre Wimille, who would triumph at Le Mans again in 1939, and then go on to an illustrious racing career after the war.

Second for the evident love the author has of his subject. More than eighteen years of research illustrates the passion that his topic holds for the author. Despite having only a passing interest in the activities of the French Resistance, Saward has whetted my appetite for his next book on this subject, which I can only assume will have even less reference to motor racing than this volume.

I felt that occasionally, we disappeared off on tangents that served only to illustrate the depth of the author’s research rather than further the plot, but we invariably came back to the matter in hand, and always did so with Joe’s engaging style intact. My other gripe concerned the number of typos (even one on the first page!), which were minor, but too frequent to be ignored.

Whatever kind of motor racing fan you are, even if you are not (so what are you doing reading this?) this is a story that I suggest you will find hard to put down. Thankyou Joe – well done!

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