The Dark Horse by Rumer Godden
|The Dark Horse by Rumer Godden|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Published as children's fiction but it will be loved by everyone from 9 to 109. Brilliant characters, great location, though-provoking and a page-turning story. And don't even get me started on the horse...|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 208||Date: April 2014|
|Publisher: Virago Modern Classics|
Dark Invader was a well-bred racehorse and had the looks to go with it but he was disappointing in his first season in England and his owner had better uses for the money his sale could bring. He was shipped out to India, which might sound rather extreme, but was not uncommon in the nineteen thirties and there were some benefits. The main one was that he was going to a good owner who cared for his welfare and a trainer who realised that he would get most out of his horses if they were contented. His new owner, Mr Leventine, even arranged for his lad to travel out to India with him and this was probably Dark Invader's greatest piece of luck. Ted Mullins not only loved the horse - he understood him.
Calcutta in the thirties was a city of extremes. There were plenty of rich people, but an overwhelming number of poor, many of whom were dependant on the charity of the Sisters of Poverty who collected waste food each night from restaurants - in fact anywhere they could get it from - and brought it back to the convent to recycle into meals for the poor. Another horse - Solomon - was key to this work as he pulled the collecting cart, but Solomon was old and his days were numbered. How would the sisters cope when his days were over? As Mother Morag would say God helps those who help themselves.
First published in 1981 this book is deservedly a classic. I've read it before but still got through it in one sitting because I simply couldn't put it down: the writing is exceptional and it's a cracking good story. It's difficult to pick out favourite characters. Mother Morag is always good, but not necessarily honourable. John Quillan, the trainer, made an 'unacceptable' marriage and is not accepted by society - or rather his gorgeous wife isn't. Ted Mullins loved his wife - now sadly dead - and he loves Dark Invader, but drink can get the better of him. And as for Darkie - you'll love him.
The edition I read is published by Virago as children's fiction. It is - but I've yet to meet an adult with any interest in the subject matter who didn't think that it was a brilliant book. Anyone with any interest in horseracing will recognise a writer who knows the sport back to front, who is keenly aware of the good and the bad. She knows the nuns and the problems of feeding the poor as well. There's plenty to think about too and not just in terms of the scandal of the rich having so much when the poor go hungry. There's a moral question posed: is it right to act dishonourably (no - I am not going to tell you...) when the results are for the greater good?
A lot of people turn to Jane Austen in times of stress - my go-to author has always been Rumer Godden and I'd like to thank the publishers for an entirely unexpected treat.
The story of Dark Invader is based on a true story. For another horse story which is only lightly fictionalised have a look at The King's Jockey by Lesley Gray. Set some twenty years later than the story of Dark Invader Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta by Glen Peters gives a great insight into Calcutta.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Dark Horse by Rumer Godden at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Dark Horse by Rumer Godden at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.