As spare and evoca­tive as ever

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS | REVIEWS - DE­CLAN BURKE

THEREDEEME­D TIM PEARS Blooms­bury, 383pp, £16.99

Ban­ished from the ru­ral idyll of the West Coun­try in the years lead­ing up to the first World War, young Leo Ser­combe – the horse­man of the first vol­ume of Tim Pears’ tril­ogy, and sub­se­quently one of the wan­der­ers of the sec­ond novel, and now, we pre­sume, one of the re­deemed in the con­clud­ing vol­ume – must walk through fire if he is to re­turn to his beloved Devon and the land­scape that Leo, acutely at­tuned to na­ture’s rhythms, has al­ways in­stinc­tively as­so­ci­ated with a divine pres­ence.

The Re­deemed, how­ever, opens a long way from the West Coun­try. Cat­a­pulted into the flames of the North Sea when the ship on which he is serv­ing is shelled dur­ing the Bat­tle of Scapa Flow, the half-drowned Leo rails bit­terly against the God that has for­saken him. The prelap­sar­ian par­adise of The Horse­man has long since been lost: “The horse­men who had been fore­told had come. Fire and smoke and sul­phur would is­sue from the horses’ mouths.”

While Leo grap­ples with Rev­e­la­tions and apoc­a­lyp­tic vi­sions, Lot­tie – Lord Prideaux’s daugh­ter, whom the young Leo dared to be­friend be­fore be­ing beaten and ex­iled for his fa­mil­iar­ity – has grown into an ac­com­plished vet­eri­nar­ian. But the West Coun­try is no longer the ar­ca­dian ideal Leo left be­hind. “Re­pro­duc­tion is the most ex­tra­or­di­nary mir­a­cle in the whole of na­ture,” Lot­tie’s men­tor, Patrick Jago, tells her, but it’s also “a sav­age busi­ness”. A sav­agery that is by no means the sole pre­serve of the an­i­mals she treats; men, as the un­pro­tected Lot­tie quickly dis­cov­ers, are ca­pa­ble of cru­el­ties that an­i­mals couldn’t even imag­ine.

Told in par­al­lel nar­ra­tives which chart Leo and Lot­tie’s tor­tu­ous jour­ney to­wards their des­tiny to­gether, The Re­deemed is a hugely sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion to the West Coun­try tril­ogy.

The au­thor’s lan­guage is as spare and evoca­tive as ever – Leo, smelling the sweat of men ready­ing for bat­tle, re­alises the musky, rank stench comes from “deeper pores, prim­i­tive glands, some true au­then­tic depth of their be­ing” – and his eye for the telling de­tail is undi­min­ished: “the carter tugged with all his force, and the fore-leg was yanked and ripped off the body of the dead foal so abruptly that it came slith­er­ing out of the vagina of the mare and the carter stag­gered back­wards across the wet straw of the loose box with the sev­ered limb, like a man as­tounded by what he’d been given, strug­gling to re­tain his bal­ance”.

The theme is one of re­birth, of end­lessly re­new­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties. “We may be an old species nearin the end a days,” says Leo, “or we may be a young species with heaven on earth ahead of us.” The fu­ture, what­ever it holds, will be far more com­plex than the sim­ple cer­tain­ties that de­fined Leo’s child­hood: “I want to work with horses . . . Just as trac­tors is takin over.”

But even as new tech­nolo­gies, and the war to end all wars, and the wis­dom of age all com­bine to erode Lot­tie and Leo’s be­lief in the es­tab­lished order of things, a hard-won faith in them­selves and their place in the nat­u­ral cy­cle pre­vails. It is a shared vi­sion de­rived from their mu­tual love of, and un­der­stand­ing of, horses:

“Lot­tie said that when she looked into the eyes of a horse, she ac­knowl­edged that it does not see as much as hu­mans do, nor un­der­stand much of what it sees. ‘But I have the feel­ing I glimpse what is be­hind the horse,’ she said. ‘What made him.’ ‘God?’ ‘I don’t know. Is there a need to name it?’ Leo shook his head in agree­ment.”

De­clan Burke is an au­thor and jour­nal­ist. He is theed­i­to­rof (NewIs­land).

Trou­ble is Our Busi­ness

Tim Pears: his eye for the telling de­tail is undi­min­ished.

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