"Speed triumphant"

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by Pierre Fisson (188 pp, 12s 6d, Putnam and Co Ltd, 42, Great Putnam Street, WC).

We wrote some time ago, when reviewing another book, that perhaps a great motor racing novel has yet to be written. That was before “Speed triumphant,” a translation by MP Moseley of a book the French know as “Les Princes du Tumulte,” came into our hands. At last a great writer has described the scene, the background, of motor racing. This documentary by Pierre Fisson has no particular plot, not over-much romantic interest (though what there is of this is delightfully done) and is really a cross-section of how the Simca-Gordini team tackles races at Monaco, Aix and Berne. The “hero” is Jean-Pierre L’Archange, wealthy amateur turned professional, and you will live with him to the last word on the last page. The other drivers live too, and are real characters—Fangio, Gonzalez, Farina, Ascari, Chiron, Rosier, Claes, Moss, Heath, “Bira,” Branca . . . And, of course, the Simca drivers Manzon, Gordini, Trintignant.

The book is written in the modern vogue of slightly dramatised descriptive style, but loses nothing thereby, which emphasises the author’s ability, for, overdone, there is no style we like less. Motor racing, when the author knows his subject and can handle it, benefits by such an approach. “Speed triumphant” is above all readable. It also provides a splendid insight into all those little things that go with racing, so that the reader sees a driver “behind scenes,” as an actor seen in dressing-roorn as well as before the footlights.

Technical details of the Gordini team are revealed, the race accounts are accurate save for the inclusion of the additional mythical Simca driven by L’Archange, and Cordial, patron of the team, is delightfully portrayed. But it is the behind the scenes sketches that make this a great book. If any criticism is merited it is that errors in translation have crept in (Moss and Heath drive ERAs, for instance, where HWMs are obviously intended), that there is a tendency for the hero, victim, it is true, of a bad crash at Madrid, to dwell overmuch on the morbid before his races, and that the climax when he dead-heats with Farina at Berne is a thought overwhelming. But this book is so very clever, so admirably conceived and written, that such points do not detract from it very much and it remains the first really great account of motor racing in the form of a novel that we have encountered. We learn from the dust jacket that Pierre Fisson won the Prix Renaudot in 1948 for his novel “Voyage aux Horizons,” and are not surprised. Certainly he must have lived with the Sirnca team to have written “Princes du Tumulte,” conferred perhaps with the late Raymond Sommer to get some of his “cockpit aspects” right, must certainly know and love good motor cars. Moreover, the illustrations are excellent photographs of real races, from the Maurice Louis Rosenthal collection.  WB.

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