17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A study in brown,
This review is from: Foal's Bread (Paperback)Foal's Bread has been shortlisted for two Australian prizes: the Miles Franklin and the Prime Minister's Literary Award. It feels very much like a Miles Franklin novel - hard countryside, the builder generation, poverty, despair, horses...
The cover is brown and so are the contents - brown earth, brown grass, brown rivers, brown clothes and brown horses. Following mother and daughter, Noah and Elaine Nancarrow, as they forge lives from the land; snatch moments of love in amongst the barren loathing of an extended family. The two women, and Noah's husband Rowley, live for showjumping: the high jump in particular. There are plenty of opportunities to catch the atmosphere of regional Australian country fairs: cakes, hats, dances and tents as the Nancarrows attempt to clear seven feet. Between the shows, life on the farm is hard and the wider Nancarrow family never quite accept Rowley's choice of wife. Noah is destined always to be an outsider. This is very much a character driven novel and the characters are believable, offering shades of light and dark.
The writing is mostly in a slightly opaque, folksy style. Some of the speech patterns resemble Yorkshire as much as Australia and it can take some getting used to. There is also a tendency for some of the description to focus on the detail, to such an extent that the bigger picture is missed - hence the reader might have to flick back a few pages to discover that one of the horses is, in fact, dead. That doesn't mean it's not there to be seen, but it does require quite a degree of close concentration. Coupled with this, the story can be less than gripping at times with a fair amount of repetition and the general sameness of one year after another. OK, some of the sentences and some of the images are quite lovely, and the later scenes with Uncle Owen are pretty gripping. There are also subtle undercurrents of issues that remain unresolved today. Alcohol, indigenous rights, disability and sexual abuse for starters. But these issues seldom take the centre ground; the story is about people, not issues. And horses. The opening sequences are powerful but the tension that is created is allowed to just drift off. What a pity.
The final section - the Coda - feels a little bit awkward, as though it was included as an afterthought. However, it does set a wider context and does release a slight feeling of claustrophobia that develops after being trapped in such a confined slice of history for so long.
But for all the good points - and they really are good points - as a whole the overwhelming sensation is just so much brown.
Foal's Bread does give a feel for how far Australia has come in a relatively short period of time - and also a feeling that this history is still there to be seen if we just look hard enough. There is a feeling of a lifestyle that was already dying at the time and that was helped on its way by the two wars. However, this is already a well mined seam and its products seem to get laid out on the Miles Franklin table year after year.