It’s 1952 and Geoff is growing up in a house divided. His father drinks and womanizes while his mother tries to maintain her dignity and raise the boys. Geoff’s dream is to one day own a cyclomotor, a motorized bicycle that promises all the freedom of an automobile but at a fraction of the cost. Muckle plunges us into the midst of post-War England, into the working class world of deprivations and schemes. Cyclomotors could easily have been a Merchant/Ivory period piece, lushly outfitted with details to sweep the reader away; instead, Muckle goes the miniature route (the book is only 62 pages long), presenting us with a world that is surprisingly rich for consisting of little more than loosely connected, highly suggestive scenes.
Cyclomotors (Essex: Festival Books, 1997) has a hard-edged reticence that really grew on me. The most important things happen quickly and almost off-screen. The narrative, for example, is interspersed with excerpts from his mother’s diary entries that frankly describe her wayward husband’s exploits and her righteous anger. Even though Geoff has apparently discovered the diary by accident, the reader is never privy to his response.
The book is also interspersed with grainy period photographs and advertisements, many representing a scrapbook of desirable cyclomotors that Geoff keeps. The images have the appealing look of terrible photocopies made from faded newspaper clippings. I’m a little surprised not to have seen more use of this kind of “bad” imagery in novels that have embedded photographs. Muckle’s images have a kind of dreamy, careless quality to them that obscures the technological prowess and gee-whiz modernism of these motorized bicycles, leaving everything to our imagination except Geoff’s desire to own one. This deliberately amateur use of found images has much the same feel for the way W.G. Sebald often used images in his books.