Fiction The Horseman
Tim Pears (Bloomsbury, £16.99)
This is a mesmerising book. set in 1911, the story turns on the friendship between two children: Leo, a carter’s son, and Lottie, the tomboy daughter of the master in the big house. it develops, like everything in The Horseman, slowly, but (not to give anything away) to an unexpected end.
however, this is not really what the book is about. Most of it is an evocation of the pre-first World War countryside, sparely written and imagined with exceptional fidelity. i was reminded of the italian film The Tree of Wooden Clogs, made by Ermanno Olmi in 1978. Nothing much happens on the surface and yet the events stay with you. As it happens, both works end in the same way.
This is not an idyll. The country folk who occupy this stage have a slightly bovine air and, if the book has a fault, it’s that the central character, unsmiling Leo, is only a window through which we see events: he has little signs of personality.
These are practical people, however. They know about ferrets, hayricks, swallows, early harvesting machines, sheep with the Gid, pigs and how to kill them, blacksmith’s shops and horses. steam has come to this countryside, but not the internal-combustion engine. horses provide transport, motive power and sport.
Much of the action takes place in fields and stables, where the abilities and illnesses of cart horses and cobs, ponies and hunters are impeccably described. indeed, this book is as much about horse lore as human emotion and the different characters define themselves in relation to the equines. A shared love of horses—in particular, a roan who dies of colic—precipitates Leo and Lottie across the class barrier to develop what threatens to be their pre-adolescent romance. Although the musical notation would be andante, if not largo, it’s a tale beautifully told. Clive Aslet