A Spoke in the Wheel – Kathleen Jowitt

I was sent a free copy of this book in response of a fair and unbiased review by the author.

‘The first thing I saw was the wheelchair. The first thing she saw was the doper.’

A Spoke in the wheelBen Goddard is an embarrassment – as a cyclist, as an athlete, as a human being. And he knows it. Now that he’s been exposed by a positive drugs test, his race wins and his work with disabled children mean nothing. He quits professional cycling in a hurry, sticks a pin in a map, and sets out to build a new life in a town where nobody knows who he is or what he’s done. But when the first person he meets turns out to be a cycling fan, he finds out that it’s not going to be quite as easy as that. Besides, Polly’s not just a cycling fan, she’s a former medical student with a chronic illness and strong opinions. Particularly when it comes to Ben Goddard

 

What I thought:

I really enjoyed the way this book didn’t hold back from difficult topics and how it gave each of the characters their own flaws and issues and time to face them properly. Ben, Polly, and Vicki feel very real. It felt less like fiction and more like a slice of life, like I was actually living with these people and feeling their pain and anger. Especially at the way the world perceives disability and sport.

There isn’t much in the way of narrative in the same way normal life doesn’t have massive arcs and themes. When you get into the working world life simultaneously slows down and speeds up. Each day blends into another and it’s eventually the weekend and then it’s back to work. And that’s where this story shines. It’s not about the adventure or the teenage angst, or full of space pirates. It’s about 3 people whose lives come together due to necessity and needing a place to live. 3 normal people who are just trying to get by, like the rest of us. And just like the rest of us there is a myriad of complications and problems in the way.

Ben just wants to start over and not have the ‘doping scandal’ hanging over his head, he moves in with Polly and Vicki because it’s cheaper to share a place between 3. Vicki is burning out and working all the hours possible and more at work. Whilst Polly is struggling with a chronic health condition which is best described as ‘having the flu years ago and never recovering’. Yes she can walk if she uses a cane but not very far and it completely wears her out. So she uses a wheelchair, which her family don’t approve of because they think it means she’s given up.
Which, incidentally, is complete bullshit and shows just how much we look down on disability (especially invisible illnesses) as a society. Even her FAMILY think she shouldn’t need the chair. I get angry enough when strangers tell me I don’t need all my meds, or that i could fix my condition if I just changed my diet but I wouldn’t know what to think if my family started telling me that it was all in my head and I was giving up. But the problem with this is that it feels so real and I can see it happening in normal life. A lot of wheelchair users aren’t bound to that chair and can walk a bit but it might be too painful or too tiring to do so for long periods. So they don’t use it all the time, or they park in disabled spaces and get left passive aggressive notes on the car windshield because someone saw them walk. We don’t have the right to judge and make assumptions and yet it happens all the time.
And there’s no hiding from this in this book. It would be easy to over do it, or to not really go into detail in how much difficultly Polly has in her day-to-day life and yet it is done so well in the scene where her and Ben go to the bank. From the very beginning there are problems and Polly jokes about having a ‘wheelchair bingo’ but you can see how much it hurts.

This book also addresses the scandal of doping in sports and why it hurts when you see people fall from favour and how easy it is for them to disappear. People won’t forget Lance Armstrong’s name but there are so many others that might have a few weeks in the papers before fading into nothingness. Ben is hoping for just that but is weighed down by guilt and is also trying to work out just how he reached that point of having to dope. He went from being one of the best to having to work 2 jobs just to get by and never wanting to get on a bike again for the rest of his life. Professional sport is difficult and there is immense pressure in it, it’s difficult for athletes to step down and back into normal life anyway let alone being forced to do so.
I really enjoyed the way that this story starts after Ben has got over the shock of everything happening and he’s just trying to put it all behind him and get on with his life. Starting over again is a hard thing to go through and all he wants to do is just keep his head down and get on with life. Much like the rest of us.

Finally the way that the story deals with Vicki getting a girlfriend is great. Ben takes a couple of seconds to work out why it confused him before realising he just assumed that Vicki was straight and that it didn’t bother him and just getting on with his life. Which is great, take a second to go ‘huh’ and then just return to life.

 

Why I read it:

This isn’t my normal kind of book but I Kathleen Jowitt managed to find my blog and offered me a copy. It isn’t one that I think I would have found otherwise but I’m really glad that she did. because it’s not my normal kind of book I didn’t have any preconceptions.

 

Final Thought:

I loved the way that this was just a gentle character  based story with characters with strong morals and having the time to have difficult discussions in a way that didn’t seem patronising and preechy. They were just friends talking about their lives and I’m sure that I could find a Ben, Polly, and Vicki in most places if I went looking. This book felt real, sometimes putting a book down and returning to the ‘real’ world is hard but this one wasn’t. Because this is our world, with all the difficulties but also with all those small moments of friendship and happiness that makes it worthwhile.
Yes I’m a big fantasy/YA person but at the heart of all the books I love are good characters. And this had great characters, I want to flop on the sofa and just listen to them talk. Or play Articulate with them, that would be pretty cool

 

Would I recommend? This is a funny slow paced character book that feels effortlessly real. I would definitely suggest it to people

 

Challenges

PopSugar: LGBTQ+ protagonist, book borrowed/given as a gift, published 2018, problem facing society today.

 

Thanks again to Kathleen for offering me a copy of her book, I’m going to go hunting for ‘Speak it’s Name’ now. Her debut all about uni politics and faith.
This time next week I’ll be in London with two of my best mates getting ready for YALC

As always I’d love a comment, let me know what you think of my review and if it’s made you want to go read it.
Also let me know where you stand on plot vs. character

Rea

P.S The next book is ‘Dear Charlie’ by N D Gomes

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