Gillian Mears, Allen & Unwin
This novel’s an intriguing ride for those who want an intergenerational Australian family story set in a rural setting.
It’s jaunty as a show pony and dappled with striking characters — some larrikins, some lovable — all adding flavour to this pre-WWII tale of show-jumping and falls from form and grace.
At its heart Foal’s Bread is about disappearing worlds and the effect of this loss on individuals and families.
Mears shows how devastating it is for people to build their identities upon a dream they think will last forever but which subsequently crumbles.
There’s a vein of sadness running through the book’s core. There’s no flinching from violence and suffering either, so don’t expect to feel detached.
Mears’ knowledge of the world of horses and riding is also showcased. Snaffles, saddles, withers, low-slung hocks — you name it, she knows it.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Mears says horses have been the greatest teachers of her life. At age 31, multiple sclerosis stopped her riding in its tracks.
The foal’s bread of the book’s title is a lump of tissue found in the mouth of some new-born horses believed to bring good luck. But there’s not much good fortune in the Nancarrow family around whom the book revolves.
There is one bright spark, though, in Lainey Nancarrow. She’s a beautifully-drawn character and I think for this Foal’s Bread might be a contender for the Barbara Jefferis award for best novel by a female Australian writer depicting women and girls in a positive way.
Mears’ use of the vernacular and the lightning strike plot device caused me to falter a few times throughout my reading but I’m still glad I saddled up. Foal’s Bread is well written and well worth a look.