Swim­ming with Horses

Oak­land Ross

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - HI­LARY DANINHIRSCH

Dun­durn (MARCH) Soft­cover $20.99 (328pp) 978-1-4597-4354-0

Oak­land Ross’s Swim­ming with Horses is a mul­ti­lay­ered ad­ven­ture that is part mys­tery, part com­ing-of-age tale.

The story vac­il­lates be­tween apartheid South Africa in 1962 and a small On­tario town a year later, when Hi­lary, a “wild” eigh­teen-year-old girl, ar­rives in town. In On­tario, ru­mors fly about Hi­lary’s mys­te­ri­ous, scan­dalous past in South Africa. She is stay­ing at the home­stead of the Barker fam­ily and be­friends Sam, a fif­teen-yearold neigh­bor who has a mad, un­re­quited crush on her. De­spite their age dif­fer­ence, Hi­lary spends a lot of time with Sam. They of­ten go horse­back rid­ing to­gether to bol­ster Sam’s eques­trian skills.

Hi­lary is the daugh­ter of a prom­i­nent white busi­ness­man in South Africa. She be­friends a farm­hand, Muletsi, who may not be who he ap­pears to be, all the while try­ing to avoid her fa­ther’s creepy em­ployee, Jack. Nel­son Man­dela makes a cameo ap­pear­ance in the book as well.

Al­ter­nat­ing points of view al­low the back­story to un­fold in a seam­less man­ner, ty­ing to­gether loose ends and ex­plain­ing how and why the char­ac­ters came to be where they are. Only Sam’s chap­ters are told in the first per­son, al­low­ing the reader deeper ac­cess to his psy­che. Hi­lary and the other char­ac­ters are kept at arm’s length, adding a level of in­trigue to the story.

The book is es­sen­tially a mur­der mys­tery, but it is also an ex­quis­ite lit­er­ary achieve­ment. Lan­guage is evoca­tive, paint­ing in­deli­ble por­traits of the starkly beau­ti­ful South African land­scape and the re­mote On­tario coun­try­side.

The fi­nal chap­ters take place thirty years into the fu­ture, nar­rated by a now fortysome­thing Sam who can­not rest un­til he learns what hap­pened to Hi­lary af­ter she sud­denly dis­ap­peared from his life that fate­ful sum­mer. Twists and turns, along with a sur­pris­ing rev­e­la­tion in the book’s fi­nal pages, make for an ab­sorb­ing read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

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