The King's Jockey by Lesley Gray

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The King's Jockey by Lesley Gray

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A lightly-fictionalised account of the life of Bertie Jones, who rode the horse which collided with Emily Wilding Davison in the notorious suffragette Derby. A good and thought-provoking read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 252 Date: December 2012
Publisher: Solis Press
ISBN: 978-1907947612

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In June 1913 Emily Wilding Davison ran out in front of the King's horse at the Epsom Derby: she died of her injuries. Her actions are often quoted in history books and whether you think her to be a suffragette martyr or a deluded woman, few are ignorant of her or what she did. But how many people remember the jockey who was up on that fateful day? Few will know his name, or that what happened at the Derby would haunt him for years to come as he believed himself responsible for killing Emily Davison. The King's Jockey is the story of Herbert 'Bertie' Jones, of the life which brought him to the Derby and of what happened in the years afterwards.

Bertie Jones was just one child in a large family. In his day his father had been a noted jockey and Bertie and his elder brother, Reg, were taken on by Richard Marsh, a successful, if not financially astute trainer. His most influential owner at the turn of the century was the Prince of Wales and it was Bertie Jones' ability to work with Diamond Jubilee, the Prince's talented but exceedingly temperamental colt which led to his becoming King's Jockey. Even as a boy Jones had been thoughtful and self-effacing: what happened at Epsom in June 2013 would have done immense damage to a less sensitive man.

It's a book which can be read on two levels. Firstly, it's a wonderful story. Lesley Gray has lightly fictionalised the life of Bertie Jones, remaining broadly true to the facts but occasionally adjusting events and timings to suit her story and conflating or inventing characters. At the heart of the story is fact. Jones comes brilliantly to life, as does the time - the years between the turn of the century and the start of the First World War when so much was changing. Horse-drawn transport was being superseded by the motor vehicle and many women decided that they were entitled to independent lives.

But then there's a deeper story about the changing roles of individuals in society and about personal responsibility, including responsibility for your actions and the effects they will have on others. It's thought-provoking and whilst you'll enjoy the story on whatever level you read it, it's the questions it leaves in your mind which bear fruit later.

You'll particularly enjoy the book if you're a fan of horse racing on the flat, but even if you're not you won't feel overburdened by esoteric detail about the turf. There's a genuine feel for 'the sport of kings' and the enjoyment it gives, but the bad and the downright ugly are not ignored either. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For a factual account of horse racing at this time we can recommend The Masters of Manton: From Alec Taylor to George Todd by Paul Mathieu.

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Peter said:

This is a special book - couldn't put it down - the title suggest it's a book about racing but it's so much more than that.