“On the bench the men in black have become utterly motionless and sit inert, almost as though stupefied. All these people, Rebecca thinks, live their lives only at the lowest level of vitality.”
First published in 1963, this book was adapted into the 1968 film “Girl on a Motorcycle” starring Marianne Faithfull in the title role.
Newly married 19 year old Rebecca rides from Alsace to southern Germany into (she hope) the arms of her dominant, and much older lover. She’s escaping from Raymond: a man she despises, who bears the somewhat laboured surname “Nul”.
Symbolism is plastered on with an unsubtle trowel. For example the colours red, white and black are a recurring theme, and we are reminded that these were the colours of the Nazi flag. For a story written in 1963, featuring numerous border crossings between France and Germany, I doubt this needs to be explicitly stated.
Rebecca has a wonderful exuberance, self-confidence and superiority. She is aware of her power over men. Other women hardly feature in the book at all.
She pilots her black Harley (a wedding gift from her lover) with skill. Her lover rides a red Guzzi. Mandriargues describes the engineering in loving detail.
In one way, there is a hierarchy: the woman in control of the bike, and her lover in control of her. Her lover provides the context in which Rebecca can be free.