Foal's Bread Paperback – 1 Mar 2013
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You are unlikely to read a more courageous novel this year. * Guardian * Original, moving and tragic, Foal's Bread is a book that cries out to be read. * The Glasgow Herald * A harrowing story dotted with moments of outstanding beauty. -- 4 stars * Metro * Dappled with fast-moving light and shade, occasionally swelling with romance, Foal's Bread is too bubblingly vibrant to grow sentimental, the tangy vernacular of its cast a delight, the blood, sweat and saddle soap pungently rendered. * The Observer * Foal's Bread is a grand, bittersweet romantic saga, at once laconic and mystical, tragic and optimistic. * Australian Book Review * Gillian Mears writes like an angel. No matter what her subject matter, she seems incapable of writing prose that isn't lovely, clever and astonishingly observant. * The Age *
More than fifteen years in the making, Foal's Bread is an exceptionally haunting novel of love and horses from one of Australia's most acclaimed writers.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.
A few days later, Rowley Nancarrow, an Australian champion showjumper and the only son of the farmers of `One Tree' watches a slight girl on a big bay gelding taking the jumps at the local show. Roley, as he is universally known, watches her and admires her courage. Roley goes looking for Noah, and gives her a strange small object - like a piece of shrivelled bread, for luck. This object, called foal's bread, is sometimes present when a foal is born and is often regarded as bringing luck.
And so begins the story of Noah and Roley's life together during the cruellest decades in the 20th century. The small country district of New South Wales in which they live has elements, still, of pioneering life. Annual shows with serious equestrian events are the highlight of the year, and Roley and Noah dream of success. Living with Roley's family at `One Tree' has its challenges: Roley's mother Minna had high hopes for her son, and her dreams did not include a girl with obvious `dark' blood possessed of drunken aunties and a mindless father.
`The luckiness and unluckiness of any life.'
Unfortunately, life becomes complicated for Roley and Noah. Any luck that Roley may have had seems to leave him, and Noah struggles with some demons of her own. The novel is written in a vernacular that captures the lives and times of the characters. Sometimes, this seems contrived and doesn't work - but not in this novel. I've heard echoes of this same vernacular in the third quarter of last century, but not since.
This novel traverses some difficult issues: Noah's sexual abuse by her Uncle Nipper (whom she mostly loves, for he showed her kindness) reverberates throughout her life; Roley's illness takes away his (and their) dreams. Lainey, we learn, has found a place in the world. Ms Mears manages, in fewer than 360 pages, to observe the handicaps of gender and health and the impacts of love, luck and race in a small geographic space near an edge of Australian society during the first half of the 20th century.
The novel ends with a 21st century Coda. Roley and Noah are long dead, and their daughter Lainey (herself now elderly) returns briefly to the district. Accompanying Lainey, and mindful of the time that has elapsed, distance enables us to experience a different dimension to Roley and Noah's story.
I found this novel intensely moving: the writing is superb and the characters are brilliantly realised.
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