For all his faults and flaws, and there were many, James Hunt was a great man. A fantastic character who lived through a time when racing was racing and drivers could be cavaliers on the track and off it.
His was a turbulent life that was lived to the limit. As a driver he overcame enormous odds to become the best in the world with McLaren in 1976. As a colourful personality he was unrivalled – entertaining admirers and offending others with his outlandish behaviour. After he retired he continued to make an impact, as a TV commentator, but died suddenly in the prime of his life.
Hunt was no ordinary racing driver, and so “Shunt – The Story of James Hunt” is no ordinary sports biography either.
Penned by Tom Rubython, “Shunt” charts the rise and fall of Hunt’s short life in meticulous detail across almost 700 pages. It is pretty comprehensive stuff, with all the major milestones in his life closely examined. From his club racing days, to Hesketh and McLaren, before retiring from Formula One and sinking into a period of depression, only to be rejuvenated as he found true love for the first time in Helen Dyson.
One complaint that could be made is that there is perhaps too much information crammed into one book. It captures the intricate detail, but sometimes fails to be as entertaining as it probably should be. A reason for this is because most of the material featured has already made an appearance in Gerald Donaldson’s excellent biography from almost two decades ago.
There are some attempts to spruce up Hunt’s personal story, but most of these are nothing more than fillers that should have been edited out before printing got underway.
I don’t, for example, feel it was entirely necessary to spend an entire chapter on Niki Lauda’s horrific accident. Clearly it had an effect on Hunt, but that could quite easily been explained in a few paragraphs and not over 14 pages. Another example is the background of Richard Burton’s fall from grace, which does drone on and derails the narrative.
Other issues I had while reading “Shunt” is the apparent lack of proofreading. There are some glaring mistakes and occasionally repetition. But for all its shortcomings, it is still a thoroughly good read and you won’t be able to put it down.
If you haven’t read any of the other autobiographical books on Hunt, then “Shunt” will reveal what a fun-loving, caring man Hunt really was. A man who had a genuinely uplifting presence – qualities that shine through in this in-depth account of his life.
Ultimately satisfying, if perhaps over-written and, disappointingly, fails to provide a fresh perspective that most will be looking for.