Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

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Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Perhaps a little dauntingly rustic and rural at the start, this tale of impoverished horsemen and their hopes is well worth sticking with through to the winning post.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 296 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 9780857386694

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Longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012

West Virginia, 1970. We're at a rundown race track, of the dusty kind rundown horses and their rundown owner/trainers fetch up living in, with the occasional race to interrupt the boredom. Into things comes a young upstart hoping to surprise all with his four unknown quantities and make a packet before fleeing. His girlfriend is here too to help out, and naively eager for success and knowledge, but old hands like Medicine Ed have seen it all before. Also in the background are some small-time gangsters who are not too keen at for once not knowing who is doing what and how races are going to be run and won.

To start with I felt a little like the outsider. Thrust abruptly into the thick of things courtesy of the rural accent and untamed diction of Medicine Ed (an elderly black man, with a knowledge of horses and herbalism), given no speech marks (and one too many typos) it looked hard to get a grasp initially. But I was soon, dare I say it, off and running.

And what I found was something, if not a thoroughbred, that was still very distinguished. It's quite a literary fiction, swapping tense, style and focus for every character. But it also has an intriguing storyline that comes clearly to the reader, even one not interested in horse-racing. The humans are after all the main characters, and their relying on chance – and instructions from above, or not – to escape their humdrum life is the focus. It's the blurb that told us it's 1970, but that setting has an almost timeless, classical feel to it, aligning this award-winner with several noted rural masterpieces.

I think the author wants this small world to be representative of the whole USA – the blindness of gambling all on the American Dream, the drift downhill from the fleet and fighting to the flawed and farting. There are too few characters here for that, for my mind. But this is a definite treat for those like me who enjoy a near-microscopic look at one aspect of life, upon which a whole tale is hung. Perfume has Perfume, American riverboat gambling has The Missing by Tim Gautreaux, and now lowbrow horse-racing has this highbrow novel.

For the younger readers interested in horses, we recommend Hartslove by K M Grant.

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Buy Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon at Amazon.com.

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