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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A different opinion, 21 July 2011
This review is from: Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France (Kindle Edition)
Richard Moore's Slaying the Badger seems to have gained universal praise and so it's with some trepidation that I offer a dissenting opinion. Don't get me wrong: the story of the 1986 Tour is a fascinating one. I'm just not sure that this book tells it in a fascinating way.

I should probably make clear at the outset that I work as a writer and editor. That means that I have a horrible tendency to mentally edit books as I read them. Often, there are things which irritate me which I'm sure would bother no-one else. But in other instances there are problems with the language so fundamental that I'm sure they bother people regardless of whether they are paid to spot misplaced apostrophes. This is one of those instances.

A big part of the problem for me is the tendency to cram far too many ideas into one sentence. Sometimes this simply leads to clumsy phrasing: "Laurent Fignon, it becomes clear whenever the road begins to rise, is, as his performance in the time trial in Nantes had suggested, finished."

In others, it leads to sentences which resemble paragraphs and which took me several read-throughs to understand: "And here LeMond, as he so often does, segues quickly into an anecdote that at first seems to veer off at a tangent to the discussion we've just been having, only to home back in on the point, and to reveal something fundamental, in this case shedding light on Köchli's intransigence, which, with someone as dizzily hyperactive as LeMond, must surely have been the most significant barrier to a flourishing professional relationship forming between the two." Admittedly, that is the worst example I found of a sentence which really should have been broken up. But it wasn't the only one. Often dashes are used to try to separate ideas, but that just leads to awkward passages such as these: "His eldest son, Geoffrey - a baby during the 1986 Tour - had taken up the sport, and LeMond - just like his father had done in 1975 in Montana - began cycling regularly with him. In 2007 father and son travelled to France to ride L'Étape du Tour - a stage of the Tour de France - together." The often-awkward phrasing meant that too often I found reading this book very hard work indeed.

In my opinion, the author has also made strange choices in how he tells the story. My Kindle version reveals that the description of the 1986 Tour doesn't start until more than 60 percent of the way into the book. While the background is undoubtedly of relevance, it did leave me feeling that the description of the race itself was greatly rushed. I can't help but wonder how much better the book would have been if each chapter were focused on each stage of the race, with flashbacks to relevant background. I also fear the tendency to directly quote and cite sources (typically books, television interviews, and interviews conducted by the author himself) detracts from the drama of the story. Too often I felt like I was reading an academic tome. Much better, surely, would have been to weave this information directly into the text. Very little seems to have been paraphrased, and I often found this jarring.

As I say, there's no doubt that I'm a linguistic nitpicker and that my enjoyment of Slaying the Badger was considerably marred as a result. But I do fear that there are some issues so dramatic that they will affect any reader's enjoyment. The 1986 Tour makes for a brilliant book. But it saddens me to say I don't think that book has been written yet.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Jul 2011 14:39:22 BDT
Danny O'D says:
How pedantic!

There was no point that I struggled to read this book. I felt the author let the words flow and I was gripped from start to finish.

While it could be argued that it was an interest in the subject matter that kept me enthralled, the torture I endured when reading and re-reading The Death of Marco Pantani by Matt Rendall is proof that a book has to do a little more to retain your interest. More importantly the author has to take you on the journey with them. Richard Moore succeeds with both.

Furthermore if believe that Moore employs a style that avoids lecturing to the reader or being condescending in any way thereby avoiding the pitfalls that I believe a number of other authors fail to avoid.

I know it's all about opinions, but I felt this was just a wee bit harsh on Mr Moore

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Jul 2011 17:05:47 BDT
readie says:
Sure you won't be alone in feeling me pedantic, Danny O'D - that's why I was at pains to make clear that I have to spot awkward phrasing for a living and so am probably far more irritated by it than most! Maybe I am being harsh, but I was trying to be fair too.

I'm really glad you enjoyed the book so much. The reviews in the press and in Amazon do make clear that I am in the minority in not having liked it. As you say, it's all a matter of opinion and I just wanted to express mine for anyone who might struggle as I did with the language and/or story telling. I'm sure even you would acknowledge that the examples I cite above prove that the words don't always flow easily? I guess I was just surprised to have seen so many people saying the book was written really well when I so frequently found myself having to reread sections to make sense of them.

[As a side note... In terms of my comment about parts reading like an academic tome, I meant in terms of directly citing sources, not in terms of the writing feeling condescending. I'd completely agree with you - at no point did I feel I was being talked down to.]

But, hey, even if we don't agree on this book, it seems we can agree on one thing - vive le Tour!

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jul 2011 01:56:24 BDT
Baz says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jul 2011 17:22:54 BDT
readie says:
There's a lot I could say in response to that, Baz, but I'll restrict myself to two points. First, "this guy" is not a guy. Secondly, if you're going to accuse someone of being complicit in the decline of the English language, you might want to proofread your accusation first.

And now let's steer the discussion back to the book, shall we?

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jul 2011 17:35:17 BDT
Baz says:
I admit I haven't read the book, but I did read your two examples which are perfectly fine to anyone with a fair mastery of the English language. Dread to think what you would make of, say, Swift, with his multi-clausal sentences and use of (horror!) semicolons.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jul 2011 17:53:47 BDT
readie says:
Once you've read the book, perhaps we can have a valuable discussion about it. Until then I'd suggest we draw this conversation to a close.

Posted on 26 Jul 2011 10:19:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 26 Jul 2011 10:20:11 BDT
Coco Junior says:
I'm not well enough informed to comment on your appraisal of the writer's technique. But, I would say that I did not find myself struggling to comprehend any of the book's content.

However, I do disagree with your suggestion that the story would have been better told by demarking each stage with a new chapter. The book as written was essentially 3 stories in one; a biography of each of the two central characters, together with the story of the '86 Tour. These were blended together very successfully in my opinion. Indeed, the upfront background on LeMond and Hinault is what, for me, brings the re-telling of the race action to life.

Posted on 28 Jul 2011 15:29:14 BDT
In my humble opinion I thought it was a great read from start to finish. The three stories rolled into one climaxing at the end of 1986 tour, the suspense was brilliant. I also enjoyed In search of Robert Millar by Richard Moore. Both 5 stars in my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Aug 2011 13:59:49 BDT
readie says:
Three-stories-in-one is an interesting way of looking at the book, and perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I'd gone in with that mindset. I suppose that I was hoping and expecting it to focus in great detail on the '86 race so the approach taken didn't work for me.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Aug 2011 14:01:31 BDT
readie says:
The comments from you, Jonathan, and from Coco Junior are interesting in terms of the three-stories-in-one concept. Maybe I'll have to re-read and re-appraise the book in a few years' time with that idea in mind!
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