Saturday, June 6, 2009

Royal Enfield was novel's one constant

Author John Irving gives a stirring description of a Royal Enfield motorcycle as he sets in motion the action of his novel Setting Free The Bears. That description, in full, is in the previous post. The item prompted "Just a fan" to comment:

"It's poetry: 'when they made the pieces look the way they worked.' But what happens then? What is the book about? What role does the motorcycle play? You can't expect me to read the book! You read it, right? Tell!"

OK, I will. Actual literary critics will please forgive the fact that I was more interested in the motorcycles in the novel than I was in the bears.

Graff, the novel's narrator, takes a half share in the Royal Enfield with Siggy, the motorcycle salesman who has secretly prepared this motorcycle with all the best parts, paid for by his employer. Siggy quits his job and the two embark on a free-spirited road trip across Austria.

But, first, they tour a zoo in Vienna, and Siggy becomes obsessed with setting the animals free; the animals had been freed once before, after World War II, when the starving population of the city ate them.

Graff literally goes along for the ride, zoo plan and all, but before Siggy can act on it he is killed and Graff is injured in a collision.

As he recovers, Graff reads Siggy's notebooks, which lay out the plan for the zoo break. He also reads Siggy's university thesis, which is Siggy's family story, told amid the history of Nazi, Soviet and human wrongdoing before, during and after World War II.

Tragedy made Siggy the last of his line, but motorcycles are the means of escape to life and freedom. No wonder Siggy wanted one. As a sort of tribute to Siggy, Graff manages to execute the zoo break, with predictably tragic results.

And, then, he escapes on the Royal Enfield. The following passage is not the end of the book, but it is on the final page. Any motorcyclist will recognize the emotion:

But I braced my feet on each side of the old beast, and it sat steadily; it waited for me now. Then I identified all its parts in my head; there's a certain confidence in having the names for things. I called my right hand Throttle and turned it up. I called my left hand Clutch, and pulled it in. Even my right foot responded to the gear lever, and found first—and it's not a particularly impressive right foot.

The point is, everything worked...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6/06/2009

    Heheh reading the comment on the previous post I wondered if you would react with a counter-blog ...nice...:-)


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