Wheels of Fortune by Ian Watson

“Wheels of Fortune” by Ian Watson is a little gem that sneaks up on the reader. It soon becomes apparent that there is more to this than a humorous travelogue about bicycling in Ontario in the year 1900.  Ian has done a great deal of research. He has a detailed knowledge of the geography at the time, and the way the good citizens lived their lives. But don’t be fooled into thinking this will be a dry read. Ian is, first and foremost, a humorist. I found myself with at least a smile every paragraph, a chuckle per page and a guffaw per chapter.

The history, lifestyle and geography of the period is woven seamlessly into the anecdotes and antics of his characters, primarily three inept middle class men from Toronto. These three decide on a whim to cycle from their homes to the Kawarthas to get away from the summer heat. Their adventures (or shall I say misadventures) let us experience travel as though we were there, be it on the railways, of which Ian has an in depth knowledge, the roads and trails, even a barge laden with pigs headed for market (laughed out loud at that one). He even manages to fit in a little romance. What more could we ask for?

Ian also uses period language, which adds to our sense of ‘being there’. If he uses a few too many British terms (or a few too many ‘ands’) perhaps we can forgive him. After all, this was United Empire Loyalist country.

All in all “Wheels of Fortune” is a delight to read, especially in an overstuffed armchair in and air conditioned room on a hot summer’s day.


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