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The Sport of Kings Paperback – 6 Apr 2017
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‘CE Morgan has delivered a masterpiece. Rich, deep, and ambitious, this book is, by any standard, a Great American Novel’ Philipp Meyer, author of The Son and American Rust
‘In this century, the finest “major” novels have more often than not been written by women. Zadie Smith, Donna Tartt, Eleanor Catton, Meg Wolitzer and Elena Ferrante are among those hitting the long balls in contemporary fiction, and with The Sport of Kings, a world-encompassing colossus second novel, C. E. Morgan has joined their ranks … Morgan is a virtuoso stylist …There will not be a novel with a larger and more dazzlingly deployed vocabulary published this year … Constantly invigorating, surprising and transfixing’ TLS
‘A high literary epic of America. Long and dense, violent and strident … portentous … majestic’ Sunday Telegraph
‘That Morgan’s second novel is an achievement is beyond doubt … Morgan barely draws breath as she chronicles the fortunes of Henry Forge’ Observer
‘Fich and compulsive … This epic feat of storytelling confirms Morgan as the new torchbearer of the Southern Gothic tradition … She is such an immersive storyteller, with such a vivid sense of place, such a true ear for dialogue, and so subtle a gift of characterisation … Her prose is often ravishingly beautiful, displaying an unerring instinct for metaphor and music … By the time I was 100 pages in, my English cynicism at the spectacle of another author setting out to write the Great American Novel had dissolved into wonder and delight: C.E. Morgan has come close to realising that very thing’ Financial Times
‘A contender for the Great American Novel.’ Patrick Ness
‘There were moments while reading this sprawling, ambitious novel when I thought I was reading a masterpiece … At times my compulsion to read on was like a physical force’ Spectator
About the Author
C. E. Morgan lives with her husband Will Guild in Berea, Kentucky. She is the author of All the Living.
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Set in the state of Kentucky, the book traces the fortunes of the Forge family starting with young Henry, growing up on his father's tobacco farm. With glances back at his ancestors who settled on this land and claimed it as their own, Henry makes up his mind to forge his own path and turn the land to breeding racehorses.
The novel progresses in a relatively conventional sense to the next generation and Henrietta, who is groomed by her father to continue the family business. One day, while interviewing potential farmhands, she encounters Allmon Shaughnessy, son of a black mother and white father, who claims he's good with horses.
This is where the book loops away from the typical saga and flips back to follow the misfortunes of Allmon's upbringing. An absentee father, a sick mother who cannot afford healthcare and a lack of choices lead Allmon from the wrong side of the tracks to the wrong side of the law.
Morgan embraces the unpredictable in her storytelling, using flashbacks, excerpts, playscripts, speeches and rewritten parables to reinforce her themes. The juxtaposition of theory beside the brutal realities described in her prose jar the reader into an uncomfortable awareness. Her language is exceptional when she gives herself free rein to encompass the geography and natural wonders of the Bluegrass State, but also when evoking the smallest detail of equine or human.
It's not an easy read, often harrowing and dark, disturbing and shocking, leavened with excitement and suspense of the races and some wonderfully entertaining characters; a jockey, a preacher, a chain-smoking neighbour. It's also huge not only in number of pages but scope. That said, it's a book that will stay with you a long, long time and very likely lure you back again.
In this, he is not alone. Each of the main characters have strong personalities, destined to crash repeatedly into each other by the very nature of their ties to the family, the land, and the horses. Their feelings of unhappiness manifest again and again through extreme acts of anger, vindictiveness, and jealousy. Rape, lynching, death; all form part of the savage fabric of the novel. The vehement racism that runs through the plot varies from the ‘uppity Negro’ type to the pseudo-intellectual/philosophical/biological justifications for the white man’s supremacy. And I mean, ‘man’. Women have their own, very specific, role to play in this society. As heir apparent, Henrietta’s grooming for the top position is framed from the outset as being taught not to be like other women.
The book is foremost about family, about lineage and blood ties. As with horses, genealogy and familial connections are imbued with meaning and expectation. The conflict, and inevitable catastrophe, is determined by the ways in which characters seek to subvert, or escape, the powerful chains these presumptions place on their lives.
To say the book is challenging is an understatement. It’s a complex and surprising read, never following the narrative patterns you expect. Latin quotations and Socratic style dialogues are followed by disturbing scenes of violence. The writing has its own gait, disparate elements herded by Morgan into a comprehensive whole. It is this that ensures it stands apart, and highlights the author as someone stretching the boundaries of form.
Many thanks to C. E Morgan, 4th Estate, and RealReaders for this copy in exchange for an honest review.
Allmon is of mixed race and so his whole life has been a struggle, he got involved with the wrong people and ended up in prison where he gained a love of horses and so gets a job with Henry Forge.
The story is a real epic saga of life in the deep south, involving slavery, racism, abuse, greed and ambition and although slow to get into once I had I was hooked - definitely worth persevering with