Book Review: The Descent By Thomas Dekker

August 11, 2017

It's a page turner, but should you read it?

The Descent
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There are things we know we shouldn’t do, but somehow we just can’t help ourselves. Picking scabs, squeezing spots, clicking clickbait headlines. To this collection of compelling but ultimately unsavoury activities, I think we should add ‘reading doping memoirs’. Rarely do we genuinely learn anything new by reading them, and while the reading may be compelling (because maybe there will be some interesting revelation or insight if we just keep on reading) come the end, there’s a sneaking suspicion that all you’ve achieved is lining the pockets of a doper.

To save you the trouble of falling into this trap with The Descent by Thomas Dekker (the ex-Tour riding road rider and hour record attempter), this review of his autobiography will contain spoilers. Stop reading if you don’t want to know what’s going to happen. But it’s all very predictable, so I suspect you could guess if you tried.

First up, he’s going to take some drugs. Recreational ones and performance enhancing ones. And he’s going to sleep with lots of women, and some of them are going to be prostitutes. He’s going to have hopes and dreams, he’s going to train until it hurts, and he’s going to be ruthless in his pursuit of winning. He’s going to earn lots of money, spend it on flashy things, and drive around in fast cars while drunk. Basically, he’s going to be a dick.

But hey, there might be an epiphany. Keep reading! Something will happen and he’ll turn over a new leaf! Plus, every chapter ends with such ‘dum dum DUUMM’ style teaser that, clunk, clunk, clunk, the pages keep turning pretty easily.

I kept reading, and I kept waiting for the contrition, the likeable turnaround, the ‘I’m really ashamed of how I used to be and I’ve devoted the rest of my life to making amends’ tale. If nothing else, Thomas Dekker is honest about the bottomless depths of his unlikeable dick habits (and I mean that in both the personality and penis sense of the word), leading me to believe that somewhere along the line he was going to contrast all the grim stuff with something that might make you sympathise with him. But no, he’s a dick, he knows he’s a dick, and (I think) he remains a dick at the end of the book.

Having got to the end, I don’t feel I’ve learnt anything new. It’s relentlessly grim, but without the crafted plot or language of a Chuck Palanuik novel. Rider dopes. Rider dopes some more. Rider gets caught. Rider drinks self silly, gets clean, tries to re-establish himself as a rider, can’t achieve previous performance, releases ‘revelatory’ book.

Sure, he’s not a cyclist any more, but instead of living out the rest of his days from a bedsit, he’s landed on his feet, jet setting around with a new rich lady friend, going to museums and gallery openings. There’s a bit of a ‘I wonder what I’ll do next’ reflection at the end of the book, but I didn’t feel that it really added up to a great deal of contrition or apology. He suggests he wants the book to act as a cautionary tale, however as he’s only 33 and doesn’t appear to be having a terribly horrible life despite all his immoral activities, what’s to learn? I can’t help but feel that those clean riders who were beaten by Dekker and never had any taste of the largesse that Dekker has frittered away might wonder how their lives would have panned out had they not been clean themselves.

He is quoted in The Telegraph as having said:

“It’s absolutely not a publicity book for myself,” he says. “It’s raw, it’s honest. I’m not blaming anybody else.
“I’m not proud of this book. I’ve been to hell. My mother read the book and she didn’t go to work for a month. Those are the people who love me the most. The book is way bigger than all those little things that people write articles about for headlines. It’s my life. And I f—-d it up. And I’m aware of that. I’m 33 years old. And if I didn’t sell one book, for me, it’s absolutely the same. I just felt that I needed to write this story down.”

I put it to you that you should test his word: don’t buy this book.

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