Blue Horse Dreaming by Melanie Wallace

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Blue Horse Dreaming by Melanie Wallace

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Natalie Baker
Reviewed by Natalie Baker
Summary: A haunting novel that deals with the blurred lines between memory and reality, sanity and madness, Blue Horse Dreaming plays with tense and time in a story that is deeply moving yet also unsettlingly unfulfilling.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846551475

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There is little in Blue Horse Dreaming that is precisely pinned down. Set sometime after the Civil War, at a frontier posting somewhere in the United States, a band of soldiers returns having rescued two white women from captivity with the native 'savages'. One couldn't be more pleased to be back in a 'civilised' place, the other - Abigail Bulwell - couldn't be more horrified.

Separated from her man, her son, and heavily pregnant, accompanied only by her blue roan horse, Abigail clings to the clothes, the language and the customs of her adopted tribe. The commander of the outpost, that is slowly crumbling from lack of supplies, not to mention lack of belief and purpose, is Major Robert Cutter. While broadly sympathetic to Abigail's plight, he has enough problems of his own. His authority is dying away as the fort decays and the men starve, he's writing letters to his wife that he will never send, and he thinks he is seeing ghosts.

As the book progresses, we are shown pieces of Abigail's past life and pieces of the Major's present as well as glimpses of their futures. This is a story that examines memories, and within memory time is a fluid thing. It is not a linear story either, what is relevant within this novel is not where the characters are going, but how they got to where they now are. It also poses questions as to what is civilised - and makes the pretty obvious point that it is the settlers and invaders of the land who are the savage ones, rather than the indigenous inhabitants. But as with everything in this book, it is obvious, yet subtly written.

But memory is also full of holes on the one hand, and tightly guarded secrets on the other, and so the full story - stories - never really come out, not to the reader nor to any of the characters. There are general generic sketches with only certain details picked out, and others that remain just beyond recall. What is portrayed is very melancholic and elegaic, and while I was hoping for a more in-depth account of Abigail's time with the Indians - a time when, it is intimated, she was happy, unlike the rest of her life, it never really materialised. As someone who has lived in other cultures and 'gone native', albeit to a lesser degree than she did, I found myself identifying with her and concentrating on her story far more than the Major's - which was always ultimately going to end up being frustrating, since the Major's story of decline ultimately forms the core of the novel.

I also had a strong reaction when starting to read to discover that a novel set in the late 19th century had been written in the present tense. I found this slightly jarring at first, however there is, for once, a very good reason for this tense choice, and the shifting of tense through the novel is beautifully subtle and makes absolute sense. The actual time is not important, this is not a historical novel by any means, but rather the turn toward memory when the present becomes unbearable. It also deals with memory as being unreliable - there are few facts in this story, only perceptions.

This is not an uplifting read by any means, but it's an elegaic story, beautifully and simply told. It's the sort of book you need to be in the right mood for, or one that you are willing to let grip you. I read it in two sittings - the prose flows effortlessly, no mean feat of writing - and had I not had other calls on my time would likely have read it in one. Despite the 'endings' being more than hinted at from early on, there is still room near the end for some revelations, and one in particular that casts certain sections of the book in a whole new light.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For another stylistic book that also focuses upon memory and memories, try The Visible World by Mark Slouka.

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Buy Blue Horse Dreaming by Melanie Wallace at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Blue Horse Dreaming by Melanie Wallace at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Blue Horse Dreaming by Melanie Wallace at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Blue Horse Dreaming by Melanie Wallace at


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