Saturday, October 08, 2011

Foal's Bread Readalong - Preamble to Chapter 6

I don't know about you, but I find readalongs are a bit like London buses! You don't do one for months and months, and then suddenly you find that you are participating in three at once and there is another you just completed!

1 November is the release date for Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears - the first novel by this author in more than 16 years! I hadn't read her before, but I jumped at the opportunity. (oh, dear. This is a book about show jumping amongst other things - the pun was not intended!). There were a couple of reasons for doing so. The first was that it was a new to me Australian author which is always good, the second is that the setting is between the two World Wars which is a time I find very interesting, and the third was the chance to share the experience with a group of Australian bloggers some of which were familiar to me and others that were not! Special thanks go to Danielle from Book Nerd Club for hosting the readalong. I will list the other bloggers at the bottom of the post.

I was interested to see when I started researching for this book that there were interviews with the author as far back as 2002 where she talked about a book of this title being her next book. It would be interesting to learn how much the idea has changed during the intervening time, how much of a struggle it was to write the book and what made now the right time for it be published.
This week we are reading from the preamble to chapter 6, and will post about the rest of the book in the coming few weeks.

Perhaps I will start with the blurb from the publisher's website and share my thought using that as a jumping off point:

The long-awaited new novel from the award-winning author of The Grass Sister tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and the high-jumping horse circuit prior to the Second World War. A love story of impossible beauty and sadness, it is also a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard.


The sound of horses' hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri. If a man can still ride, if he hasn't totally lost the use of his legs, if he hasn't died to the part of his heart that understands such things, then he should go for a gallop. At the very least he should stand at the road by the river imagining that he's pushing a horse up the steep hill that leads to the house on the farm once known as One Tree.

Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal's Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by the vicissitudes of the land.

It is a love story of impossible beauty and sadness, a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard. Written in luminous prose and with an aching affinity for the landscape the book describes, Foal's Bread is the work of a born writer at the height of her considerable powers. It is a stunning work of remarkable originality and power, one that confirms Gillian Mears' reputation as one of our most exciting and acclaimed writers.

I am not sure what I was expecting when I was opening this book but it most definitely wasn't the opening chapter that we got. Noah is a young girl who is helping her father drove some pigs to market. They stop at a farm called One Tree Farm on their journey. Noah has no way of knowing that the farm is going to play an extremely prominent part in her life in future. Even without knowing the links that will bind her to this land in the future, she had already left a part of her heart and a secret behind on the Nancarrow family's land.

Fast forward a few years and Noah and her father have joined the show jumping circuit which at the time was quite lucrative for the winners, and there she meets Rowley. She likes him straight away but it is only later that she finds out that not only is he the local show jumping champion - he is Australian champion. Rowley is impressed with Noah's skills, and so begins a romance that leads her back once more to One Tree Farm.

I am still undecided as to what I think about this book so far.

What I do like - as I mentioned before the years after World War I and before World War II are years that aren't written about enough in my opinion. The world is still hurting from the Great War, and yet the machinations that are leading up to the second World War have begun. Individuals like Rowley's mother still hurt at the loss of individuals. In her case it was her older son Dunc, lost to the fields of France. And yet, there was technological advancement that was starting to become more than just a dream for many Australians as evidenced in the way that the Nancarrows were striving towards owning their own truck.

In some ways there is a touch of the fantastical to the story, with certain symbols within the text taking on almost magical qualities - the foal's bread of the title, the biscuit tin which features a picture of Rowley and Noah completing a tandem jump and more.

The language to me feels very colloquial, and I would think that is a very definite choice on the part of the author in showing the traits of the characters. For example, there were several times when the name Nancarrow is mentioned in speech and when that happens it is written as Nancarra in terms of pronunciation. It can sometimes take a while to understand the somewhat broader and older style of Australian language as it is quite different to what is in use today.

One thing that is very interesting is the pacing of the book. We have covered a lot of ground in this opening section and some times it has felt a bit rushed especially when the text jumps forward a number of years very rapidly, but as I am now reflecting on the section that I read earlier it does have a lingering after taste of lyricism!  There does also seem to be quite a bit of foreshadowing as we are reading along. Sometimes that works as a technique but other times not so much. I guess I will have to suspend judgment until I get further into the book!

I did feel uncomfortable with the opening parts of the book - mainly because I didn't really relate to Noah's reaction to what had happened to her and the consequences of those events.I am interested to see if Noah is going to have some kind of delayed reaction as the story progresses.

To read other posts for the readalong, visit the following blogs and see their impressions of the book so far:

The Book Nerd Club
The Talking Teacup
My Journal of Becoming a Writer
Fantasy vs Reality
Slightly Addicted to Fiction
The Book Nook


  1. I also felt that the opening events were sort of uncomfortable, I mean the dogs ate the ..... well yeah. I also wasn't a big fan of how it jumped so much, I mean I would have liked for it to slow down a bit. Although Noah still acted oddly towards her baby and her actions seem callous, I felt that it showed something that she didn't drown it, as it seemed, was expected of her.

  2. Hi Marg
    I am also interested in stories set around the World Wars, especially here in Australia. I didn't put my finger on it as well as you, but I also like the fantastical or magical elements; it suits the landscape so well too.

  3. I must say I really felt for Noah, i thought it was a compassionate depiction of how a child with no real idea of what she's doing makes a choice which will haunt her for the rest of her life. I agree about enjoying a book set in this era, and the life that everyday people lived, I find it fascinating about how such tragic loss of life was absorbed into their psyche and just is the background of the life they live.

  4. I think this sounds like an interesting read, even though I am not much for horse books. It sounds like there was a lot to think about in what you've read so far, which in my opinion is the marker of a good book. Great review on this part of the book!

  5. Zibilee, I am not normally a horse book reader either.

    Danielle, it wasn's so much the decision but rather the lack of emotional issues that occur in everyone who is a victim of a paedophile. Maybe they are still coming?

    Mel, it does suit the landscape doesn't it!

    Monique, I guess we will wait and see how the second section goes!

  6. I am struggling a bit with the colloquial language which creeps across the dialogue into the narrative where there seem to be shifting POV. I am waiting to see the consequences of Noah's decision as I am expecting that this will be a big driver in the plot. Not loving it so far.

  7. Just started this and loving it. Came across your blog when looking for reading group discussion questions for this book. Will be back to take a look around and hope to join in a readalong sometime soon (when I get through Foals Bread)