On your bike! the book that finally got me in the saddle.
Book 4 in Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage series looked a little daunting in length compared to the previous novels. I had also been warned that much of The Tunnel takes place in a dental surgery where Miriam Henderson now works, which caused me some concern as I had an appointment with my own butcher, I mean dentist, looming.
From the very first page I was transported into Miriam’s new lodgings. The room is so vividly described I was reminded of my own first tiny student digs. The novel is even more impressionistic than the earlier ones, a series of crystalline moments, thoughts and feelings explored left hovering, rather than a linear concrete plot. As it turned out, all the scenes at the dentists’ were more an account of the monotony of Miriam’s administrative tasks, her interactions with her employers and her meandering thoughts through the long slow hours of her working day. Thankfully, any potential dental trauma was kept to a minimum.
The novel also describes the toll of Miriam’s continued poverty and the constant need for financial vigilance on her well-being and social life. There is, however, a glimmer of hope that breaks through the claustrophobia of her poverty trap, and that is the promise of independence offered by cycling. This was the most striking aspect of the novel for me.
The road ran on and on, lined by low hedges and the strange everlasting back-flowing fields. Thrilling hedges and outstretched fields of distant light, coming on mile after mile, winding off, left behind…Trees appeared, golden and green and shadowy, with warm cool strong shaded trunks coming nearer and larger. They swept by, their shadowy heads sweeping the lower sky. Poplars shot up, drawing her eyes to run up their feathered slimness and sweep to the top of the pointed plumes piercing the sky. Trees clumped in masses round houses leading to villages that shut her into little corridors of hard hot light.
From the cycling lesson to Miriam’s grappling with the practical challenges of what a woman could wear while cycling, and the beautiful descriptions like the one above utterly charmed me. They also made me realise how guilty I am of taking such opportunities for granted. The description of her cycle ride was such a thrilling portrayal of a first taste of freedom that I was not only inspired to get in the saddle, I felt positively compelled! If I end up as some lycra-clad insect complete with an alien shaped cycling helmet and clicky bike shoes, you’ll know who to blame. I shall even call my bike Dorothy!