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Review: We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed

Debut novelist Joe Mungo Reed offers us a gripping narrative in his noteworthy first book, out this June from Simon and Schuster. Solomon is a resolute man and a promising professional cyclist who guides us through the industrious mid-race life during the Tour de France. “I am a peloton man”, he says. An Everyman. A man of routine, of limits gradually yet constantly pushed.   His wife Liz, a geneticist with equal conviction, has just given birth to their first son. Determined not to alter their ambitious lifestyles, Solomon and Liz struggle almost beneath their own radar to keep their balance amid the draws of new parenthood, two unforgiving careers and an even more ruthless sports director, Raphael. They are forced to depend more and more on outside support in the form of Liz’s vexatious mother and a series of covert doping regimens supplied by backdoor doctors at Raphael’s urging.

“I cannot tolerate a rider who does not do his best to prevent negative consequences….It would be a shame to see you fall away for a lack of preparation.”

The risks  pile up as Liz gets more involved with Raphael and his ultimatums. With the team’s sponsorship and world ranking on the line, Solomon is pushed ever closer to the very edge of what has long ceased to be his comfort zone. Like the bikes which so often pass through his scenes, Joe Mungo Reed’s prose is powerful without being weighty. You’ll find yourself swept up, steading against the tension and racing through until the end, eager to see what troubles await at the top when one reaches for the high-hanging fruit. Everything has its price, but how much are Sol and Liz willing to pay?

Don’t let the sporty subject matter scare you away from this one. With Solomon’s succinct and endearing narration against a cast of very real characters, you’ll feel that a secret door into the world of racing  has unlatched and you’ve simply been swallowed up, slipped in among the cyclists. I was surprised by how fascinating it all was and the ease with which I found myself hanging onto Solomon’s every perception. Joe Mungo Reed has done an exceptional job at providing something for everyone, marrying the unknown with the familiar through his explorations of relationships, ambition, and consequence. I smiled. I cried. I took stock.  This is fiction done well. Joe Mungo Reed has tackled his first novel with skill and you can bet I’ll be waiting on the second.

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