The Horseman by Tim Pears

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The Horseman by Tim Pears

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Florence Holmes
Reviewed by Florence Holmes
Summary: A meditative, pastoral novel about a young boy's relationship with horses.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 302 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1632866936

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The Horseman feels like a novel written much earlier than 2016. This is in large part because it is set in 1911 in rural Somerset but also because Pears writes in a style which is reminiscent of authors in the twentieth century, if not the nineteenth. Readers who are hoping for action, pace and suspense will be sorely disappointed in The Horseman, in which not a lot happens at all; the story could easily be condensed into a couple of pages. However, if you have a rainy weekend in a cosy cottage somewhere, Pears provides the perfect companion, giving readers an antidote to frenetic, twenty-first century urban life.

The Horseman tells the story of Leopold, a young boy whose father is carter at Lord Prideaux's estate. Leo is able at school but his real talent is with horses, and he strives continuously to show this to his father and siblings. He is an endearing character, ambitious and feisty yet sweet. There is a particularly satisfying scene when Leo, lurking in the estate's stables, spots an injury which the arrogant stable lad has failed to notice, and is credited with equine blood in his bones by the groom. The horses have majestic names like Noble and Captain, which underlines their importance to livelihoods. Horses also provide a point of connection for Leo and Lord Prideaux's daughter, Charlotte, who is an impressive rider. Leo wins her respect with his own understanding and mastery of equine beasts, and a spirited, if fragile, friendship forms.

Pears works chronologically and names each short chapter after its month, making the reader hyper-conscious of the way seasons dictate the contents of the novel. The Horseman is an intensely physical novel; there is hunger, sweat, cold and brutal exhaustion at the end of a day of backbreaking labour. Even when Leo is at school, he is distracted from his work by swallows nesting in the eaves of the schoolhouse and an owl in the chimney, completely baffling Miss Pugsley, who knows that her bright, truanting pupil will soon be permanently lost to education. The Horseman's characters express their psychological state almost entirely physically - which can be frustrating for readers who enjoy the analysis of emotions - leaving abundant room for interpretation. Indeed, the novel as a whole feels spare, with the forced pauses after each chapter manifested in physical empty space and the scarcity of adrenaline. It's fashionable to talk about 'slow fashion' and 'slow journalism'; Pears is a true ambassador for the 'slow reading' movement.

Further reading suggestions: The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena, The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr and Disputed Land by Tim Pears.

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