Adam Thorpe was born in Paris and grew up in India, Cameroon and England. His graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford. For a while he worked in London teaching English but since some years, he has been living in Paris. His work has won several awards and prizes.
Relevance of the Title
Tyres figure prominently in the story. The narrator’s father has a tyre shop and he works there. It is this tyre shop that Cecile passes everyday on her way to work. During the course of the story, he speaks often of tyres.
A kind of wistful sorrow and lingering guilt are the main themes of this story. The nameless narrator who speaks in first person is a shy young man who works in his father’s tyre shop under the father’s watchful eye. Although he is attracted to Cecile who goes past the rough road on her cycle, it takes him quite a while to summon up courage to make friends with her. It’s the Second World War and there a lot of uncertainty around. The French Resistance people are active but when caught by the Germans, they face brutal retribution. Just as the two young people become friends, it all ends. The girl dies in an accident caused partly by Raoul’s act of sabotage. He remains faithful to the memory of Cecile even after twenty two years, leaving flowers at the spot of the accident.
The young man, Raoul
He is shy and gawky and does not make much headway with the young girl, Cecile. It takes him some years to become close to her. When he knows that Cecile is involved with the Resistance he is naturally concerned especially as he knows how brutally the Germans treat captured spies. The budding love affair holds much promise and Raoul is happy to be spending time with Cecile on Sundays. He is a soft hearted man and it must have been heart rending for him to face Cecile’s death. Even more torturous would have been not knowing why she got into the German’s car. His guilt is in large measure linked to his act of sabotage. He is so faithful to her memory that he still lays flowers at the spot of her death though more than twenty years have passed since then. He has remained unmarried too.
He is a fond son, caring for his father’s opinions and heeding his advice. His father teases him about his interest in Cecile but he good naturedly endures the ribbing.
The narrator is a gawky young man who notices this young woman who cycles past his father’s tyre shop every day. It takes him quite a while to get talking to her. It the time of the German occupation and life is unpredictable. The girl seems to be involved with the Resistance. One day Cecile, surprisingly, accepts a lift from a German officer. Though the hero sees that, he does not know what made her do it. Soon there is a horrific accident and the occupants of the car perish. The hero still ponders about what happened though more than twenty years have passed since then.
The story is told by a young Frenchman who works in his father’s tyre shop. The father is particular about the work they do. It is the time of the German occupation and life is difficult. The young man is in love with a young woman who cycles past the shop. He knows her by sight but has exchanged only a few words. He makes it a point to be around when she passes. Later he finds out that she may be part of the Resistance. In a few month’s time, they become a little more intimate and the young man is pleased that she seems to reciprocate his feelings.
One day, a German officer comes to the shop to get some work done on his vehicle. Cecile comes in which a slipped cycle chain which the young man repairs for her The German officer flirts with her. Raoul is annoyed and intentionally damages the new inner tube of the tyre of the German’s car. Cecile leaves soon and so does the officer. As the young man watches, in the distance he sees the girl getting off her cycle obviously with chain trouble again. He runs forward to help her but before he can reach, the German is there in his car. The cycle is lifted into the boot and the young man watches horrified, the girl gets in and is driven off. Soon there is the sound of a crash and he realizes that there has been an accident no doubt caused by a burst tyre. The occupants of the car are dead. More than forty years have passed from then but the man now in his forties still thinks of her fondly. He remains unmarried.
The first person narrative that the author employs is the perfect vehicle for the intimate personal story of the young man. As a mature individual of 42 years, he tells the story of the only love of his life and the guilt he endures for having indirectly caused her death.
1. Andre Paulhon et Fils. That sign was painted in 1942, when I was seventeen. I was very proud.
The hero, Raoul helps his father in his garage. He has been doing since so since he was a child. The father drills into him the importance of doing perfect work as shoddy work done on a vehicle to lead to accidents and death. When Raoul is seventeen, his father recognizes his work and has a new sign fitted which says Andre Paulhon et and Fils making Raoul proud.
2. But he said to me, one day, after the famous ‘Petit Ours’ (tall and elegant) had had a tube repaired on his motorcycle one evening, late: ‘Don’t get mixed up in all that. These boys, they are free. You are not. When all this is finished with, and those bastards are back in Berlin, that sign will have your name on it, and your son will be le Fils.
When Roaul was a young man, France had been occupied by the Nazi Germans. There was a flourishing underground movement in which several young French took part. Many young Frenchmen were sent to the front by the Germans. But Raoul’s father had managed to keep Raoul out of it using his connections. Once, one of the leaders of the underground, nick-named Petit Ours dropped in to get some work on his motorcycle. Though called “petit’, he was actually a tall person. Raoul’s father was a pragmatic person and he did not want him to get involved in underground work against the Germans. He hated the Germans but he wanted Raoul to do his work in the garage and keep out of trouble.
3. You cannot fail to strike up some relationship with those who pass you at definite times six days a week, but it two years before I reached sufficient maturity to wave at her as she passed, and shout some innocuous greeting (I mean more than bonjour or bonsoir).
Raoul was in love with a girl who cycled past the garage at fixed times twice a day. It took him a long time to strike a friendship with her as he was by nature shy. He was intensely conscious of her presence and he made sure he was around when she went past.
4. Try a nail or two. Otherwise we’ll be thinking you are collaborators. With, he got up and left.
Since. the country had been occupied, all the wealth of the nation was being appropriated by the Germans. The people were sucked dry and they made to do with very little. When they got their carts and cycles repaired at Paulhan’s garage, they often paid with contraband goods. The only supply of money was from the Germans who sometimes came to the garage. But that did not find favor among the Maquis who were working against the Germans.
5. The following week, they looped a rope around the long neck of Petit Ours whom they caught in a botched raid on the gendarmerie, and pushed him from the town bridge – over which the schoolchildren were forced to walk class by class in the afternoon while the body swayed in the wind.
Petit Ours was one of the leaders of the underground movement called Maquis. The Germans caught some of the members of the Maquis and shot them dead. The the dead bodies wer displayed in the Conseil Municipal and people were forced to see it to deter other from acting against the Germans. Later Petit Ours was also caught and hung from the bridge and in a particularly barbaric act, schoolchildren were forced to walk as the body hung there.
6. As I ran, an ominous sense of doom came over me.: a kind of terrible chill, that made my heart slow, though it was pumping hard to keep my speed up.
Raoul has just fitted the tyres with an inner tube that he has intentionally damaged. He does this in revenge for the killings that the Gestapo officer has ordered. Unexpectedly, Cecile comes there to get her cycle chain attended to. While she was there, the German officer flirted with her. She leaves and so does the German. In the distance Raoul can see Cecile getting off her cycle as the chain is again giving trouble. He runs forward to help her. But before him the German reaches there. Raoul knows that the tyres of the car are damaged and he wills her not to get into the vehicle. A terrible fear than something is about to happen fills him but he is helpless.
1. Why does Raoul feel a sense of pride when he sees the sign which says Andre Paulhan et Fils?
2. Andre Paulhan is a pragmatic man. How did this influence his attitude towards the Germans?
3. Why did he advise Raoul against getting involved with the Maquis?
4. How did the war affect the lives of the people in the village? How did it affect the work in the garage?
5. What makes Raoul intentionally destroy the inner tube of the tyre that he has fitted in the Gestapo officer’s car?
6. At the end, Raoul’s grief is in equal measure tinged with guilt. Why was this so?