Autumn Reading – Before the Fall by Noah Hawley


I have mixed feelings about this time of year. Summer lazily drawing to a close as a chill begins to creep into the evening air and the hours of daylight grow tighter around us. I love those long summer evenings where you find yourself with bonus time to go for a walk or hop on the bike for an evening spin. Or perhaps just sit out in the garden on the swing seat, reading your book until eventually the inevitable descent of the midges forces you to retreat back indoors.

But then… autumn has its own beauty. The perfect temperatures of warm enough to go without a sweatshirt during the day, but cool enough to sleep at night… the beauty of nature in the change of the colours of the leaves… and just that particular feeling that comes with autumn of a summer still not quite over – but the new year not yet begun. It’s that peculiar in-between time where it feels like time is almost suspended – existing in the happy, warm glow of summer and excited for the new term to begin in September, but without that yet frenetic, hectic busy rush of the first week of September. I love this time of the year.

It’s also a time of the year that I always get through few books. It’s one of my prime quality reading times of the year and I cherish it, just for that. Between holiday time and the aforementioned bonus time slots of long evenings sitting in the garden, I usually manage to work in some proper reading time, where I can properly relax and spend time between paper pages.

Without further babbling, as a snapshot of what I’ve read this summer and will review in the next few posts are the following:

  1. Beyond the Fall by Noah Hawley
  2. All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
  3. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley


Synopsis (No spoilers, worry not!) –

There’s a plane crash. Really, that’s not a spoiler – it happens in the first few pages. Basically, a small private plane crashes into the ocean between Martha’s Vineyard and New York City and it becomes a case of who done it and why. The story is told through the eyes of the various characters on board the plane, the aviation investigator and some of the people left behind.


I’ve been looking for a good book for a while, not something deep and meaningful but just something that is enjoyable and easy to read, but which also ropes me in and invokes a desire to keep reading to the end. Before The Fall did exactly that. I started reading it on the plane to France and I continued to read it for the duration of the flight, the train trip afterwards and at every moment of downtime I was treated to over the course of the holidays. It’s well-written, easy to read and I found myself being drawn to the some of the characters. It’s not a mind-blowing story and honestly, I probably won’t remember it in 5 years time, but it is entertaining, engaging and a good read.

I’d recommend this book as a good holiday read or if, like me, you find yourself searching and searching the shelves for something decent to get yourself stuck into.


Tony & Susan, aka Nocturnal Animals


The Bad News: I have much catching up to do on the book review front.

The Good News: I have plenty of ammo (literary, you understand, not literally) ready to fire.

I have been reading a lot in the last couple of months, picking up a new book almost as soon as that which went before it had a chance to hit the “have read” book shelf. You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve moved away from my cycling literature obsession somewhat and am now dividing my team between cycling biographies (and other cycling related books) and fiction.

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I had a bonus free 10 euro to spend in Hodges Figgis, my favourite bookshop of all time and an institution on Dawson St. in Dublin, courtesy of their loyalty card system. I took this as an opportunity to make a shopping trip out of the day! After spending a languorous afternoon wandering around the shop, I picked out three new titles to bring home with me – two of which I’d read reviews on and wanted to get before I had even got to the shop and the third title… was a complete gamble.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this apparently unheard of novel was just about to be released in the cinemas as a major blockbuster movie. Whoops.

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Yep, I somehow managed to miss what was written on the very front of the book up there at the top. Clever, huh?!

Tony and Susan by Arthur Wright

Well, where to begin with this.

Firstly, if you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t watch it until after you’ve read the book.  The film is very good and worth watching but the characters in the movie (and the actors/actresses used) are very different to what I had imagined from reading the book. It’s not a show stopper, but it is quite different.

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The Plot

You are reading a novel about someone else reading a novel, which initially might turn you off all that reading. But no, it works and it was brilliantly done. I loved the way this book was written, from the way the protagonist and her own story is weaved in and out from the internal novel is utterly flawless and makes for truly addictive reading.

This kind of structure has the potential to lead to a stilted, annoying flow so to execute it as skilfully as the writer has here is an achievement to be applauded.

The central character is Susan Morrow who is gifted a draft novel by her estranged ex-husband and asked to read it for her valuable critique. She then sits down to read the novel over the course of three sittings, following the story of Tony and his family who are subjected to a terrible crime along a remote US highway.

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The Characters

I didn’t particularly any of the characters in this novel, with none of them demonstrating much likeability. But I thought they were well-crafted and I had no trouble with the image I had in my head for each and every character. This is remarkably absent from so many novels nowadays that I feel the need to highlight this skill when it does present itself.


The Structure

The structure of this novel is divided, as I mentioned, into three sittings during which the protagonist reads the novel. In between, there are numerous interludes where we learn more about Susan’s own life and her backstory. All the while wondering what possible connection there might be between her story and the one she is reading. It flows effortlessly and if you had the time, you could quite easily read this in one sitting.



This book is utterly addictive. You want to keep reading. You want to know what’s going to happen next. You really want to know what’s going to happen at the end. This is one of the rare novels where the atmosphere and intensity of the book builds relentlessly and the reader remains glued to the pages with an impending sense of horror yet to be revealed.

A physical anxiety in my chest sat without rest for the few days it took me to get through this novel. My mind raced through possibilities as I made my way toward the ending and it refused to let it go even when I wasn’t reading it.

I still think about now, a week later after finishing it. I keep playing it over on my head, thinking about the characters, wondering about what happened, wanting to re-read it almost immediately just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

I gave it to my mom just so I have someone to talk about it with. And I will be giving it to friends, family and anyone else willing to read it… just so I have more people to talk about it with!

There are very few books that make this level for me. We Need to Talk About Kevin is what it reminds of. Impending sense of horror, deep anxiety and utter suspense.

Oh and by the way, the movie is very good and I would highly recommend watching it, but just to note that although in one way, the film is quite true to the book, it’s not necessarily how I imagined it.

Would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read this novel yourself! Please leave a comment below!

Racing Through the Dark – David Millar


Yum yum yum… Mmm, consider that’s me right here eating my words. In my last post, I went on about making the time to read, yet here I am holding up my hands and offering you an unconditional apology for not having made the time to read much at all lately. That tees me up just perfectly (not boasting or anything… 😉 ) for my next book review, Racing Through the Dark. 

Racing Through the Dark is the biography of disgraced Scottish professional cyclist David Millar, for want of a better description. I’m quite sure he would take umbrage with that characterisation but when you secretly take banned substances for years to gain an unfair advantage over your fellow competitors, receive a ban from the sport as a result and are stripped of titles, you can argue till the cows come home but the facts remain unchanged.

This was a hard one for me. Having read Paul Kimmage’s Rough Ride , David Walsh’s Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong and a number of other related titles, I’d heard a little about Millar already. The references and his part in this particular area of doping in professional cycling peaked my interest and I became curious to learn about his story and how it had impacted his life. So I acquired his book. Ready to get lost in David Millar world, sympathy at the ready and understanding lying in wait.

But something happened along the way. At first, I thought that the growing annoyance and hesitation I felt while reading the book was perhaps due to the way the book was written. Understand that I was very slow to dislike this lost, lonely chap and I really did try to get on the Millar train. But as I ploughed through, it gradually began to dawn on me that it wasn’t the writing that was bothering me, but the protagonist.

Brief rundown for those unfamiliar with Millar. David was born in Scotland, moved around as a kid and after his parents split up, went to Hong Kong to live with his Dad. David’s talent as cyclist became clear at a young age and at just 18, he signed with his first amateur team in France. He quickly attracted attention and turned professional at the age of 20. David was an immense talent and he was set to excite cyclists the world over. Great things were being said about David. Sure enough, David achieved some incredible feats and wins. But in 2004, he was arrested by the French drug squad for possession of dangerous substances and following a full confession, Millar received a 2 year ban from cycling. After the 2 years were up, Millar returned to the sport and spent the remaining years of professional cycling career trying to compete clean and became a vociferous anti-doping campaigner.

What I like. 

I admire Millar’s courage in advocating for a clean sport and using his experience to assist other, younger riders coming into sport and I genuinely believe that he wants to make it a better place. He didn’t just confess and walk off into the sunset, like so many other riders have done, and say fuck it – that sport fucked me over so why should I give it any more of myself? He didn’t say “That’s someone else’s mess, not mine, why should I clean it up?” He took responsibility for a stinking, sprawling, great mass of a mess, rolled up his sleeves and said “Where should I start?”

Millar was a gutsy cyclist and a wonderful talent. Yes, he doped and taints his performances, but some of the things he did out there on the road… still took an awful lot of heart and legs. And one thing that is abundantly clear in reading this book is that David Millar had a huge heart and he put everything into his cycling. As a young man being pressured into doping by his superiors on his first professional team, you really feel for him. I can’t imagine the pressure he must have felt and I could never judge him for giving in. If I was in that position, I would probably have done the same thing.

What I Do NOT Like.

First, the book is not as well written as other cycling biographies that I’ve read and I found myself having to re-read sections numerous times just to make sure I’d taken the information in. Kimmage and Walsh’s books flows effortlessly by comparison.

The caption line on the front of the book says it’s “one of the great first person accounts of sporting experience”. It’s not, if only for the above reason.

Second, as I mentioned above, I felt sorry for Millar at first. I was on team Millar. But as the book progressed, I started to feel less and less like I wanted to stay with this team. Not out of want, but because I was pushed. I have personal aversion to arrogance and notions of superiority. Unfortunately, Millar has both in spades.

You might say that his early rise to fame and his exposure at a very young age to so much talk of talent and glory naturally created a sense of self-importance and entitlement. You might say that he was easily influenced as a young rider being hailed as the next potential Tour de France at Cofidis… you might give any combination of reasons to explain away why and how a person comes to arrogance. I allowed him a certain latitude but after a while, it began to bother me. It’s not the type of arrogance that screams in your face, which is why I failed to identify it at first, but rather it consistently creeps along in the background page after page after page. He wants you to pity him, he wants you to agree with him that the world was really shitty to him, he wants you to say poor David, he wants your sympathy and understanding by the waterfall load. You had it David, but it’s exhausting after 200 pages so stop asking for it for 200 more. It’s too much.

In short, I admire what David Millar has done as an advocate against the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport but I’m not sure I’d have him around for dinner.



A Rough Ride Start to 2016:


2015 was a big reading year. I got through a lot of reading and despite the high expectations I drew up at the beginning of the year in terms of both the number and range of books I hoped to get through over the course of 12 months, I honestly really enjoyed it. Having said that, I think I may have ran out of reading steam – I’m not burnt out, as such, just needed to take time out for a wee while and take in some big breaths of fresh air. I’ve done that now and I’m ready to resume reading as many books as I can!

One big thing I learned in the last 12 months, or so, is that reading is mostly habit-oriented. If I had a cent for the number of people who have said to me that the no.1 reason they don’t read as often as they would like is because they “find it hard to find the time”, I would be the new owner of google. Okay, so that’s a gross exaggeration. It’s fair to say I don’t know that many people. No one does. Except maybe Mark Zuckerberg. And I doubt Mark Zuckerberg talks to anyone about their book reading habits very much. Unless it’s a book about faces.

The point = If you make time to read, it rapidly becomes a habit and you’ll soon find that it becomes something you really look forward to in your day. For me, it feels like a timeout – an escape from all the crap swirling around you in everyday life, a small block of time to just be by yourself and recharge the batteries. It has the same effect on me as a hot bath. The two together? There’s no going back. Word.

My rough start to my reading year has witnessed me read just two books (and am currently mid-way through two others…) and one of these boys could really shoulder a lot of the blame for this low book count. Introducing book one of 2016:

  1. Seveneves by Neal Stevenson

The outline:

Now, I need you to bear with me here… The moon explodes. This causes all kinds of gravitational and impending meteoritic doom for planet earth to be set in motion and the eventual, but fast-approaching, absolute eradication of life on earth. The human race has to quickly try and work out a way to save the human race by sending a select few into space in the hope that they will survive long enough to eventually return to earth some day when the earth becomes habitable again and re-start life on earth.

My Experience: 

This is a science- fiction novel with a fun and very imaginative plot. I don’t tend to read science-fiction novels and I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel based in outer space so this was largely new territory for me. I was captivated by the plot and was intrigued as to what would actually happen to planet earth, in addition to wanting to find out how the survivors would fare in outer space and whether re-population of the earth could actually succeed, in theory (obviously…). As I say, it was original, fun and I actually wanted to read it to find out what happens… Exactly what a book should be, in other words.

The Good Bits:

The first third of the book was very good and I thoroughly enjoyed most of it. Lots of different characters and interesting sub-plots were littered among the pages of the opening chapters and there was ample amount of detail in relation to technology and astrophysics. Stevenson had obviously done a hell of a lot of research in relation to basic physics, astro-engineering and space related technology. I learned a lot. Gravitational sling-shotting, time differentials and what materials are good to use on a spacecraft and those that can prove fatal… I’m a whole new space-tech person.

The Bad Bits:

Editing, book length and ultimate implosion.

As I said, Stevenson clearly had done a LOT of research, which is great but only in so far as it aids the story and assists the reader in terms of understanding what’s happening in the story. Stevenson completely overcooked it. The book is FAR TOO LONG – we’re talking longer than The Lord of the Rings and the Bible long. Except, unlike The Lord of the Rings, which is a masterful piece of rich and enjoyable story-telling, Seveneves does not benefit nor does it require the copious amount of detail and challenging length. In fact, if you skipped over most of the lengthy passages about metals, gravity, etc., your experience of the story would be largely unaffected.

I blame the editor. Whoever edited this book should have been more hands on and got stuck in here. They didn’t. The consequence is that the book is not as good as it could have been. Pity.

My other issue with this book is the actual story and its rapid decline once the characters have actually translocated to outer space and have settled into their new way of existence. It was all very exciting and absorbing up to a point and I was really enjoying the book. All of sudden, the story took a nosedive, to the point that I really no longer cared whether the human race made it back to earth, who was enemies with whom or whether they all died in a big universal bang. It was too long, again WAY too much and unnecessary detail, and it all just got silly.


Imaginative plot and an interesting hypothesis, it was fun to go for a ride for a while. The book is let down by excessive detail, a lamentable absence of editing (culling, in particular…) and a disappointing completion of the story.

Read the first half and leave the end up to your imagination.

The other book that I’ve read this year is Rough Ride by former Irish pro-cyclist, turned journalist, Paul Kimmage, which I will be reviewing in my next post.


The Heart Goes Last: In Review

Margaret Atwood’s most recent addition to the world of fiction is a good thing. Atwood is no stranger to fiction writing, this being her 16th (I think) work of fiction, not that this has resulted in stalemate as the originality of this story is wonderfully refreshing.


Wonderfully fiendish, yet wonderfully refreshing. Who doesn’t love a story that’s bold, naughty and so completely off the wall on one level but yet so unbelievably close to becoming our reality on another level. This book plays with your imagination, ever so slightly. Let it.

The plot? A social experiment that sees people alternate between being inmates in a prison for one month and then free citizens every other month. They swap with their alternates who also live in their homes when they are in their prison month. A social experiment but also a social solution for financially struggling people facing homelessness, which given the housing crisis in Ireland at the moment, doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

As ever, I don’t give away the story so I won’t say much more except to give my feedback on my own experience. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. Atwood is a brilliant writer and having never read anything by her before, I found her to be a hidden treasure. I will most definitely be seeking out more of her books to read in the near future.

My criticism? I loved the first half of this book and the plot was truly captivating. However, the second half of the story seemed to take a disappointing turn and was not the direction I had been hoping it was going to take. Rather than focusing more on prison life and the to-and-fro between the alternating living scenarios, the plot turned more towards love, relationships and just got a bit silly, in my opinion. It may be that I’m a bit cynical, but I would really like to one day find a book where the characters aren’t all so predictable and so controlled by “love”. There was so much potential for this book and where it could go and it just seemed to opt for the easy way out in the end. I’m not sure if this was the ending Atwood had been going for or whether she just ended up here but given the strength of the first half of the novel, I think it could’ve been better.

Conclusion: A great book and fun to read. Find a couch and settle down. You’ll want to read it in one go.



I got some loot and am mad with excitement to blitz my way through the whole dang lot.

If you’re a book person (and if you’re not, you need to get in on this action. No, it’s not nerdy. Yes, you are missing out) you already get how genuinely special it is to buy a new book in a book store. You walk around for ages picking up different ones, reading the backs and deciding which one gets to come home with you. I love book shops. The quiet, contented sound of other shoppers engrossed in browsing book covers, the hidden corner chairs for collapsing on with all your bags where no one will disturb you and my favourite part… the smell. The smell of new books is probably my favourite smell ever. Home baking, fresh coffee and Christmas tree are all up there too but the smell of a new book takes me back to being a small child and my parents bringing us out especially to buy a new book. It was something special then and it’s something special now.

When Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year, I replied with a list of books and… voila!

Santa and his helpers were most kind. I must have been good 🙂

To start me off for 2016, I have six new titles:

  1. The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
  2. The Dust That Falls From Dreams – Louis de Berneieres
  3. The Ice Twins – SW Tremayne
  4. The Secret Race – Tyler Hamilton
  5. Racing Through the Dark – David Millar
  6. Rough Ride – Paul Kimmage

The first three are fiction and the second three are cycling biographies (ish). I’m keen to read more about doping in cycling and get in as many different perspectives and experiences as I can so as to develop a more rounded, better informed view of cycling as I can. Don’t worry, I don’t believe everything I read and certainly not when it comes to subjective biographies, but I still prefer to have all the information and form my own views rather than being someone who presumes, assumes, accuses and pontificates on subjects they really don’t know the first thing about. Not that I intend to pontificate at all, but I’m a lawyer- otherwise code for: I want all the information and decide meself.


I’ve just finished Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last and a review will shortly be posted. I’ve been a bit excited in my reading recently and haven’t been as disciplined at sticking to one book at a time… As a result, I’ve suddenly ended up with at least three novels on the go. In addition to Atwood, I’m also currently reading these three:

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson. This is massive. Intimidatingly Lord of the Rings-esque massive. However, it has a really cool plot and so far it is massively enjoyable. I won’t be done with it for a little while but I’m looking forward to writing a review on this already…



The Flood – Ian Rankin. Haven’t read any Ian Rankin before so this is unchartered territory for me. I’m about halfway through and so far so good. Something of a peculiar story but so far, so captivating. No complaints. Review to follow shortly (pending distraction factor…)

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – Hilary Mantel. Short stories by one of my favourite writers. I will read anything she writes, literally. Pun intended.

My plan for January is to finish and review the above three. Paul Kimmage’s much talked about Rough Ride is on the menu for tonight. Then poor Tyler, then maybe the creepy Ice Twins… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s Tyler’s job. Whoops.


To Bleak or Not Too Bleak: Dickens’ Bleak House

Charles Dickens. If ever Charles Dickens was to be assigned to a season, it would be winter, Christmas, specifically. Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge, 3 ghosts… is there anyone in the world who doesn’t know this story? Perhaps I should have read A Christmas Carol but Bleak House was gifted to me so Bleak House, I read.

I finished Bleak House a few weeks ago but deliberately delayed posting my review, brief though my reviews invariably are. Why? Because the last Dickens I read annoyed me, was far too dragged out and frankly, I found it predictable and boring. I wanted to give Dickens a chance, to give it a fresh go and a second shot at winning me around. After taking a bit more time to ponder the book, its storyline, the writing, etc, this is what I thought.

The writing: Dickens’ writing – his style, his use of language and his descriptive abilities are wonderful and at times, truly awesome. The book alone is worth reading for the many moments that he just captures so accurately and eloquently. If you are a lawyer, his description of legal life in chambers and around the courts is particularly enjoyable and is a particular point of focus in the book.

The story: I’ve read better. I would still take Thomas Hardy over Dickens. I remain open to being converted on this preference but having now read two Dickens novels and 3 Hardy novels, my own opinion is that Hardy’s stories are just more interesting, more compelling and well, better.

As ever, I will refrain from synopsising the novel so as not to spoil it for anyone who has not yet read it but just to give you an idea of what the book is about… The protagonist in the story is Esther, whom we meet as a young girl, who doesn’t know her parents and is being raised by a hard woman. Esther’s upbringing is sad and she’s made to feel unimportant and is frequently reminded that she was “her mother’s shame.” When this lady dies, Esther mysteriously becomes the charge of a wealthy man, who initially sends her to a good school and then brings her to live in his salubrious home at Bleak House, her lot having improved substantially. The story follows Esther and her new companions in her new life and ultimately unravels the mystery of her origins.

There are, of course, lots of sub-plots going on in the novel, lots of characters and lots to keep up with here. You have to pay attention. It’s not quite Tolstoy in its complexity and numeracy of characters, but it’s not Mr Men either. Some of these periphery characters are interesting in their own rite, some are not.

The bottom line: It’s far too long. Biblically long and without need. The story is not that complex nor that interesting. He did this in A Tale of Two Cities too. I didn’t appreciate it then and I didn’t appreciate it this time either.

Dickens’ abilities as a writer are beyond doubt, but you do get the feeling, as I did in A Tale of Two Cities, that the actual story is simply a canvas for his descriptions, constantly playing second fiddle to lyricism, and being relegated to a status of lesser importance. Finishing the book, as I did A Tale, I felt that this was a pity, that he couldn’t make more out of the story given his talented way with words. At the end of the day, I’m reading to be entertained and if the story isn’t entertaining me, then I’m going to look for my entertainment elsewhere. For what it’s worth, I think all of the Bronte sister’s books are also far better. I’ll put it this way: If I had to choose, no competition.

To sum up, I thought BH was better than A Tale of Two Cities but still not great. I wouldn’t read it again and it won’t be going anywhere on my list of favourite books.

I am not a Dickens’ expert nor am I a literary scholar of any description. I am a reader and book lover, and these are my views.

Have you read Bleak House? What did you think?

What do you think of Charles Dickens?


Lance Armstrong: David Walsh and Beyond

lance armstrong

Confession: I’ve been a little obsessive about Lance Armstrong for the last while, reading books, articles, opinions and watching every documentary, interview I could get my eyes to, finishing off most recently with THE movie. This is not the first time I’ve confessed to this and readers of my running blog will be aware of my cycling interest already. Thing is – I’m a lawyer so I like to believe I can approach something in a purely objective manner, remain emotionally and personal removed throughout and emerge with perfectly balanced analyses and opinions. The other thing is however, that this is Lance Armstrong. And Lance does not provoke the usual reaction in most people. That is the just the problem: he provokes a reaction.This being a book blog, I’m going to zoom in on two of the books I have just finished reading on Lance and these are Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong written by Sunday Times journalist David Walsh and The Race to Truth by Emma O’Reilly, a soigneur who worked with the US Postal Team during Lance’s time with the team. Coincidentally, both perspectives are Irish but please don’t make the mistake of assuming they probably contain a similar story. They do not. Although both of these people were instrumental in bringing Armstrong down, each came to this story in a very different way and had very different relationships with Armstrong. The results, their stories and the differences between them are startling. Lance, as ever, divides people and nowhere is this more evident than in these two books.

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh                       I received this book as a birthday present from my little brother this year and at first glance, the immediate thought that flashed across my mind was “Wow, really interesting”, quickly followed up by “Eh, I probably won’t finish it”, if I’m being honest. I’m not good with non-fiction. Thanks to Lance (and Con-thanks for the book!), that has now changed forever. I couldn’t put the book down. Literally, I was making excuses to get away from people just to get away to a quiet corner and continue reading. It is that good.

If you’ve seen the recent movie The Program, you may be aware that this blockbuster is based on Walsh’s book and the movie actually stays very close to the book from start to finish. The movie was fine but the book is better. People always say this but it has never been more true than in this instance. On context, background and most interestingly, on cycling analytics and understanding the differences in Lance as a cyclist pre-cancer and post-cancer, the book provides more detail than a movie ever could. Walsh does an excellent job of arranging the book in a way that tells the story and knits together all the various threads that combine to make up this story. His writing is excellent in the book and if you never knew anything about cycling, it is still a great book to read.

If you were to criticize Walsh in any way, it would probably be for a blatant lack of objectivity. He makes no secret of the fact that he was a fan of Armstrong in his very early days, as the confident, young, self-assured American cyclist. But as he grew more sceptical and suspicious of Armstrong after his return to cycling post-cancer, he becomes increasingly more focused on Armstrong. His personal dislike of the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport is not made a secret of in the book and it is this, combined with the animosity that grows between Armstrong and himself, that ultimately fuels his investigation and ultimately, his pursuit of LA. Emma O’Reilly has her opinions of Walsh and how he allowed his treatment of his sources to take a backseat to promoting his own profile but purely as a writer and an investigative journalist, I think his work merits applause. There is no doubt that without Walsh, Armstrong would still be sitting on his throne. However, as regards his treatment of Emma O’Reilly and effectively leaving her hanging out to dry, I’ll pull no punches here in saying that he should not have done that. Used and abused, are the words that come to mind. Tis a pity.

The Race to Truth by Emma O’Reilly                                                                              Fascinated by what I had read in My Pursuit, I immediately went in pursuit (sorry couldn’t help it) of more material. This book is written by Tallaght native Emma O’Reilly who worked for the US Postal professional cycling team during Armstrong’s time at the team. In fact, Emma was there before Lance, which is part of what makes her account of events so fascinating. In what is laid out in a very clear chronological order, you get a feel for the team, how things were prior to the arrival of Armstrong, and how things gradually changed and changed so dramatically. As Emma says herself, the team went from being a virtual nobody in the world of cycling to winning the Tour de France in the space of about a year. And the changes were radical- from management, training and the daily running of the team, to the relationships between team members and the overall atmosphere at US Postal.

It’s a mesmerizing read and particularly interesting coming from having just read David Walsh’s account. Emma was a co-worker and close friend of Armstrong, something Walsh never was. So for her, and this obvious throughout the book, she seems to be constantly torn between her loyalty and love for Lance and the other riders, and a concurrent hatred for the awful situations she was placed in and Lance’s behaviour towards her. What is clear however, is that Emma O’Reilly was never “out to get” Lance and her sense of loyalty towards him is commendable, to a fault. Her self-proclaimed goal was only ever “to clean up cycling”, eliminate PEDS from the sport so as to create a cycling world that is clean and fair. This is a goal shared by Walsh, although for him, taking down Armstrong was instrumental to the achievement of that goal. For Emma, it would appear not so much. She believes that he was made something of a scapegoat, that he wasn’t the first nor the only cyclist to lie, cheat and dope, and that it was unfair to hang it all on Lance. In her book, she highlights the differences in Lance’s cycling sanctions as compared with those of other cyclists.

And this is where Emma and I differ. Sometimes, you meet people in your life who get to you – a friend who clicks with you more than others – someone you laugh more with – someone you feel a strong bond with above other friends – someone who sticks with you for years after they’re no longer in your life and despite everything they may have done to you or howsoever they may have hurt you in the intervening years, you would jump in front of a gun for tomorrow if you happened across them in the midst of a bank robbery. You might hate what they did to you and have been terribly hurt by them, but you still love them. Still drawn to them. Still loyal. I wouldn’t make any presumptions as to how anybody else feels  but I think Lance may be one of these people to Emma.

What I did like about this book is that although it is a very personal account, Emma tells it like it is. She’ll describe an enjoyable friendship scene with Armstrong as honestly as she’ll describe a scene in which Lance’s behaviour is appalling. You go from one minute of loving Lance and thinking he’s the best guy, to being absolutely disgusted with him the next. Much like how I’d imagine she feels about him. She doesn’t sugarcoat it and she doesn’t leave out the bits that would make you like him nor the bits that would make you despise him. I love that honesty because apart from anything else, it gives you a taste of how complicated Emma’s situation was/is and how difficult it must have been/be for her torn between her relationship with good Lance and bad Lance.

The Race and My Pursuit are well worth a read and I would advise reading the two together to get the most of it. I also plan on reading Lance’s own book soon – It’s Not About the Bike – for perspective, you understand, not obsession.

While you’re at it, you may want to watch the documentaries The Armstrong Lie and Stop At Nothing (on Netflix) and the famous Oprah Winfrey interviews. Frankly, the movie is pretty poor compared to these. However, if there is one thing I’ve taken away from engulfing myself in all of this is that whatever you’re reading or watching, keep some perspective and keep in mind that everyone has an angle.

Veering Off Script: All the Light We Cannot See

Coffee and a good book: peas and carrots.
Coffee and a good book: peas and carrots.

I’ve been bold recently. At the beginning of the year, I had a script. That script involved a prescribed set list of books I was planning to read by the end of this year. As some of you might already know, I’ve set myself a challenge to read as many books as I can, taking in many of the classics and critically-acclaimed titles, as well as well as more contemporary novels, which frankly, I know I will enjoy, even if nobody else thinks much of them! It’s all about reading books that I ought to read, books that I want to read and books that I might otherwise never read. Greater perspective, a little education and a bit of fun. Simps.

Recently, however, I’ve been bold, as I said. I’ve been veering off my prescribed list quite a lot lately and have reverted to just reading what I want to read. Not a big deal but I am going to have to put a pin in this behaviour for a little while if I have any hope of getting to the end of such lofty titles as Bleak House and Under the Greenwood Tree…

The good news is that I have been reading and have a few more titles which are ready to be added to the collection of completed titles. Since my last blog post (shamefully too long ago…), I’ve read:

1. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

I absolutely loved Tess of the D’Ubervilles, so much so that it holds a place firmly in my top 10 novels of all time. This was what made me run around buying every Thomas Hardy title I could get my hands on ever since then and I was expecting great things. I was expecting enjoyment. I did not get it. In fact, I got none at all. In all honesty, it felt like a chore from the end of the first chapter to the finish. The plot was decent enough, with enough scandal and intrigue to theoretically keep the attention of the reader but after the first chapter, the story just seemed to drift about with no direction and while I did my best to wait patiently for the story to re-establish itself, by the time the novel got interesting again, I didn’t care. I just didn’t care about any of the characters nor was I particularly interested in what happened to them. Not anywhere close to Tess. Verdict: Read Tess instead. 2/10

2. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book was recommended as one of the best books to read this year and has garnered itself bragging rights as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2015. Set against the backdrop of World War II, the story in this novel primarily takes place between 1939-45 and relates the stories of a young French girl, for whom war comes to invade her town and that of a German boy, who grows up in a world consumed with fascist ideals. Another sad World War II novel? Yes, it is. However, it is beautifully written, very easy to read and despite the absolute opposite nature of both characters and their worlds, each are instantly likeable and interesting characters. Doerr does a masterful job, in terms of knitting the storyline together and keeping the reader’s absolute attention from start to finish, building to a heart-stopping crescendo towards the end. This is one of those books you don’t want to put down. Verdict: a great book for the train, the bus, a nice big chair and a long afternoon, or anywhere else for that matter. 7/10

3. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This is a completely different book. An incredibly honest, insightful and frank discussion about race, ethnicity and western notions of acceptance, this story is essentially about belonging and trying to find your place in the world. Based in Ohio, USA, the story opens in 1977 and alternating chapters cover the years leading up to this time, bringing with it a gradual reveal of the story. A girl’s body is found floating in a lake. Yep, that does make it seem like a run-of-the-mill crime novel but don’t be fooled. This is not a crime novel and that is not at all what this book is about. The story in these pages is about a mixed race American family, acceptance of people who are different to us, love, prejudice and hidden prejudices. It’s a sad story but what makes it an edgy novel is how brutally honest it is about American culture and prejudice. Moreover, despite this book being set in 1977, the novel could, in fact, just as easily find its place in the present day and that’s what makes it so intriguing – to the point that I frequently had to remind myself that this story was not based in the present time. Verdict: It’s a brilliant piece of writing and you will want to read this. 8/10

4. The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

I was given this book as a loan from my cousin, after having been promised a loan of this from numerous friends for months. Sitting atop the front tables of all good bookshops for the last 6 months, it is fair to say that this novel has benefitted from huge publicity. I’m always hesitant about such novels because oftentimes, these much-hyped, popular fiction titles with their catwalk covers have turned out to be serious disappointments. I say “serious” because when you build something up so high, the fall from all the way up there at the top is inevitably going to be flatliner. One such recent example: I Am Pilgrim. The girl, who travels on the train, obsessively watches a married couple through the window of her train carriage on her way to and from work everyday and one day sees something that concerns her. She takes it upon herself to investigate the situation more closely and inevitably ends up tangled up in the world to which she was once just a passing observer. It’s an average plotline with a very average story. It’s not badly written and it is easy to read so if you want mild amusement as you sit on the bus or train (dare I say it) to work, then this would do just fine. It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read and if I’m honest, I was a hell of a lot more interested in finding out the end of this book than I was in The Mayor of Casterbridge. It’s a mystery, whodunnit and will keep you guessing till the end. It’s not a masterpiece and it won’t win any awards but it’s an entertaining beach read or book for the train. Verdict: Not worthy of the prime spot in the bookshop. 5/10

5. How Much Land Does a Man Need? by Leo Tolstoy

Full disclosure: this is a tiny book, a mini-story if you will. It’s a very clever little book however and a brilliant little read. Miniature in words but colossal in story, this read stayed with me for weeks afterwards. In fact, I still think back on it often. For 20 pages, this is a book everyone should read. Costs virtually nothing, but pays exceptional dividends. Read it.

Next to come:

  1. Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh
  2. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  3. Shame The Devil by George Pelecanos
  4. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Happy Reading!!!