Just occasionally a book arrives on the motorcycle travel scene that is different, brave, sure to cause controversy and perhaps be forever known as ‘marmite’. Dan Walsh’s ‘These are the days…’ is one such book and I think that Derek Mansfield’s ‘Volume 4’ is destined to be another; love it or hate it.
It’s not a big book, but then neither was Steinbeck’s ‘Of mice and men’ and that made something of an impact, so it’s only the size of the punch that matters. Yes there’s political and social comment, but how could any contemporary tour of the former Soviet Republics fail to contain some? In Mansfield’s case this is well-informed commentary, as he’s worked and ridden here many times, and as far east as Mongolia, but never blasting across landscapes in search of way-markers. In Vol 4 he meanders again, immersing himself briefly in the lives of others and being touched by them all in return.
People interest him, psychologically and physically. His notes of the human aesthetic are at times frank, at others esoteric, and yet the constant in his writing is its staccato delivery. There is plenty of space between sentences to fill in the blanks, to use your own cultural and geographical knowledge, and it’s refreshing to be involved as a reader and to join the dots.
He doesn’t lead you by the nose and in fact only once spells out which country he is in. It takes ages to discover he’s riding a Moto Guzzi Stelvio, which should tell you something about his left-field approach. Surprisingly, it’s not that frustrating and instead permits your reading to embrace the same vagrancy. You enjoy the moment he’s recounting on the page in front of you and to hell with the plan. Join him as a sober observer in a drug-addled bar, or travel to a forest on the promise of a four-poster bed but discover only communal Jacuzzi’s and a tent share with Baltic princesses.
Odd? Yes, and definitely intriguing. Will you enjoy it? Well therein of course, lies the controversy which makes so much literature worthwhile. Take a chance. Taste it and see.
Due for release 4th December 2016 but available to pre-order here.
Review by Paddy Tyson
Shuvvy Press (2015)