Fic­tion The Horse­man

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

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

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