Tag Archives: Devon

#Bookreview ‘The Horseman’ by Tim Pears #historical #Devon

Tim PearsThe Horseman by Tim Pears is an account of the slow, meandering life on an estate farm in rural Devon. It is 1911 when, for modern readers, the sinking of the Titanic is not far away and the Great War looms. Two children, born into very different worlds, grow up not far apart; both have a strong love of horses. This novel is billed as a coming-of-age tale but it is also a description of rural farming methods.

Told in a month-by-month format, the seasons unfold in a remote Devon valley where the passing of time is marked by the weather and the tasks undertaken on the farm. There is a long list of characters and at the beginning I confused who was who, but gradually they settled into their roles. Leopold Sercombe is the youngest son of the master carter working on the tenant farm of a large estate. He longs to escape school every day to run home and help his father with the horses; these are working animals, cart horses and cobs, they are almost characters. We are there as Noble gives birth; as Leo’s father shares one of the secrets of his trade, the use of dried tansy to give his horses a glossy coat; and the day Leo is given a chance to break Noble’s unnamed colt. “The boy watched the colt, his young lean muscular beauty in motion, then turned and walked towards the fence. There was but one spectator there, sitting on the top pole, feet resting on the lower, a youth in a Homburg hat, shirt, breeches, and riding boots of a sort worn by the master and his kind.” Lottie, daughter of the master, the owner of the estate, challenges the way Leo is handling the colt. And so begins their shared love of horses.

This is a 4* book for me. Why not 5*? Because the relationship between the two children takes a long time to start happening and then ends explosively which seems out of kilter with the spirit and pace of the story; because the slow, slow pace of the story and the passages of overly detailed description at times felt like sections for a ‘how to use farm machinery book’. But Leo is an entrancing character; his gentle authority with horses, his silences and thoughtful behaviour, make it essential to read The Wanderers, second in the trilogy.

If you like this, try:-
Barkskins’ by Annie Proulx
Anderby Wold’ by Winifred Holtby
Housekeeping’ by Marilynne Robinson

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Book review: The Lie of the Land

Amanda Craig A simple yet deceptively nuanced story of modern times, The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig is full of the contrasts and comparisons thrown up by ordinary life. The Bredins, Quentin and Lottie, have agreed to divorce after his infidelity but cannot afford to. Unable to sell their London house, they rent it out instead and move to Devon to a dank dark creepy farmhouse where they must manage to live together. What happens over the next year is unexpected and changes all their lives forever. This is a funny, mysterious and sometimes sad story of a city family in the country where, instead of leaving their problems behind, they find they are magnified. There is truth in the old adage, you cannot run from your problems.
What happened to the previous tenant of Home Farm? Who is the mysterious tramp in the local pub? And is Lottie really having an affair with a local architect. Meanwhile, Quentin’s father is dying and his mother is stoically coping. Lottie’s son Xan works in the nearby pie factory where, as well as finding himself a Polish girlfriend, he makes friends with Dawn, the daughter of the Bredin’s cleaner. Dawn, who seems downtrodden, obese and introverted, can play the piano like an angel. Craig has written a character-driven novel with a community of characters to make Devon feel at once cozy and familiar while being secretive and insulated. Where contrasts are expected between urban and rural life, there are often likenesses. There are several sub-plots cleverly woven into the main family narrative, of caring for elderly parents, bullying, childlessness, rural phone and broadband reception, Polish workers and urban snobbishness about country life.
I particularly liked sheep farmer’s wife Sally Verity, whose job as a social worker sees her move around the countryside, cleverly knitting together people and stories. Lottie’s mother Marta, though she stays in London, is another link between generations, locations and storylines. Only when I had finished the book did I learn that some of the characters appear in other novels by Craig, something which did not affect my understanding or enjoyment of the book. Read more about Amanda Craig’s books at her website.
If you like this, try:-
‘Himself’ by Jess Kidd
‘My Husband the Stranger’ by Rebecca Done
‘Ghost Moth’ by Michèle Forbes
‘The Lie of the Land’ by Amanda Craig [UK: Little Brown] Buy now
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