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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 6 October 2005
As someone whose password for amazon is one of their horse's names and date of birth, I do understand horses, or thought I did until I read this book. Reading this book has altered my view considerably on how I regard my own horses and ponies and has allowed me to acknowledge what I have really always known, that they are all individuals, that there is a key for each and everyone of them and that we have to find it or if we can't, find the human being who can find it. As with relationships, there is an ideal horse or pony for each of us, one that we understand and can respect. There is a passage where I think it is deidre talks about the effect that riders have on horses and then the faults they have are made by the riders. That if someone rides a horse on a tight rein, it becomes shorter and shorter in movement and then this is seen as the horse's problem, when really it is totally manmade. The horses themselves are not over emotionalised, I think Jane Smiley has done a good job of seeing the world through a horse's eyes and recently I acquired a 15 year old welsh mare who had spent all her life in a big grassy space and thanks to this book, I was far more aware of how she felt, more aware of how to please her and more patient with her and with myself. I think she was lucky to arrive just after I read this book and it gave me the confidence to deal with her in a calm and thoughtful manner. Too many so called horse people scream and shout and there is another passage in the book where it says that horses don't like loud or edgy people and they don't. I've seen it time and time again in my own ponies. They take a step back. The louder the people get, the less co-operation the horses have for them. Many insights like that have crystallised what I think and rather than read dozens of 'How to ride, train, do dressage with etc' or even the rash of behaviour books on the market, this book says it all. Jane is not sentimental, she acknowleges that horses, like people, have to do a job, not always comfortably, not always in the best circumstances. The horses themselves acknowledge they have to do a job.
I approached this book with extreme caution as nearly everyhting I read on horses irritates me enormously as most of it is written by people with tunnel vision and a lack of empathy. I wish I read this sooner.
As for the human characters, they too are truly sympathetically drawn. Jane does not criticise, she merely lets them behave and be themselves. Rosalind and her affair was so realistically drawn and the end of it, so unexpected, so likely and her love for her husband who at no time was let of the hook by the author, he remained himself and so did Roz, they just learnt to appreciate each other. So much more realistic than the undying love stuff of other books. Joy is exactly right for depression and again well-drawn and not romanticised, including how it hurts those round her. Deidre is a memorable character.
I learnt a lot about american racing from this book as well. But I also learnt a lot about myself.
And finally I shall be writing out the passage on if you don't take responsibility for your own actions someone else takes responsibility for you and using it with problem teenagers. It is the single most sensible and obvious statement I have heard on dysfunctional behaviour and should be written large in schools and counselling surgeries.
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on 14 August 2002
A magnificent adventure into the world of American thoroughbred horseracing. Human characters, equine characters, all painted and explored with exquisite skill by a master of her art. Read this book and be delighted and surprised by the way in which the novel grabs you and turns pages as if it is a pot-boiling thriller, not a book covering a subject which is outside the scope of most people's day to day knowledge and experience.
Smiley is simply the best!
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on 23 June 2000
This is an addictive book, even for me and I know nothing about horses. She writes with Hemingway's gutsiness and Jane Austen's precision - it's wonderful.
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on 29 July 2014
This book is the BEST horse related book I have ever read and I have read countless. It is also one of the best books I have ever read. It is a very interesting insight into all kinds of different people and how they interlink. Thoroughly recommend to horse lovers and people watchers :)
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on 15 May 2013
Jane Smiley is amazing ! Horse Heaven is like Black Beauty for adults: the horses and their owners are all characters and we follow all their adventures in the world of racing and transfer of ownership - a set of interwoven stories makes one beautifully crafted tale.
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on 20 August 2013
I read this book years ago - then re-read it immediately. I consider it one of the best reads of all time. It is complex - funny - sad and extraordinarily touching - all at the same time.... The chapters where the 'voices' and experiences of the horses come to the fore are so moving and strangely believable.
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on 19 October 2015
This is an absolutely wonderful book, the sort of book that restores your faith in literature, the sort of book you want to start again the minute you finish it. Amazon, there are some errors in your review, and I'm not sure that called a Pulitzer Prize winner "versatile" really covers the scope of Jane Smiley's genius.
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on 26 April 2011
Don't buy this book for your horse mad daughter...
Don't buy this book for your pony mad niece...
Don't buy this book for anyone of innocent mind, it would be highly unsuitable, as it is very adult in places.

I found the whole book a rather clinical, unenjoyable read. Books very rarely leave me cold, I try to find something good in every read but this particular novel left me freezing, it lacked any form of genuine emotional stimulus.

I found the animal cruelty horrific, and the emotionless descriptions of it inhumanly cold.

The human characters were unlikable and the emotion of both human and animal alike poorly written and lacking any genuine feel.

I imagine it would seem an interesting insight in to the equine world if you have no links to it, but as a horse owner and lover I found the book a real chore and struggled to finish it. If I had checked Horse Heaven out of the library it would have been returned unread, but having spent good money on buying this book I felt obliged to read it.

This book was more Horse Hell than 'Horse Heaven'
Suitable for readers age 18+ due to scenes of a sexual nature, and explicit animal cruelty.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 October 2009
I absolutely loved this book, even slowing down my reading sessions so that I didn't have to finish it. Smiley's knowledge and insight into the racing world in America is encyclopaedic, but never once did the detail flag the pace.

It is an ambitious book, covering several different locations and groups of characters - owners, trainers, grooms, jockeys, bettors, hot-walkers, exercise riders, vets, breeders, traders, peripheral race-track and training personnel, including an animal-communicator and - not forgetting - the horses.

The view of horses taken here eschews sentimentality with genuine feeling and humour, introduced through the folly, misdeeds and stupidity of some of the people involved in racing. This is a funny book that several times had me laughing out loud. Smiley gets into people's heads, gives you their thoughts, their twists of logic, their self-justifications and their despair. She is a genius at showing the reader the state of mind of her protagonist, and somehow, via a kind of magical talent, she knows just how much the reader needs, so much and no further. She is not self-indulgent and she can depict within a whisker exactly how others might be and might feel about themselves. Americans tend to think themselves the centre of the universe - and Smiley makes this seem not just self-indulgent but positively self-destructive, as well as very amusing.

We get love affairs, we get dodgy deals, we get cruelty, we get benign and not so benign neglect (and not just of the horses), we get craziness, depression, dissolution, pleasure, happiness, satisfaction. Particularly satisfaction.

This is a tremendously compelling and engaging book. I enjoyed every moment.
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on 4 October 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this well written, entertaining book. A good read. I read it years ago but I still carry with me the pleasure.
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