Review: Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears

Title: Foal’s Bread

Author: Gillian Mears

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2012

Synopsis: The sound of horses’ hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri. If a man can still ride, if he hasn’t totally lost the use of his legs, if he hasn’t died to the part of his heart that understands such things, then he should go for a gallop. At the very least he should stand at the road by the river imagining that he’s pushing a horse up the steep hill that leads to the house on the farm once known as One Tree.
Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal’s Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by the vicissitudes of the land. It is a love story of impossible beauty and sadness, a chronicle of dreams ‘turned inside out’, and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard.

Status: Read from November 21 to 22, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

Though wonderfully evocative and lyrical, Foal’s Bread is a bleak, raw story of loss, hardship and love. In the moonlight, at the base of One Tree Hill, a fourteen year old girl watches impassively as her fate drifts down river in a butter box. Spanning several decades, from the mid 1920’s to the 1950’s, set in the hard country of New South Wales, this is a compelling novel that traces the life of Noah Child.

Foal’s Bread is a novel that is appreciated rather than enjoyed, for the unrelenting tragedy that dogs Noah and the Nancarrows is almost unrelieved. Mears cultivates an oppressive atmosphere where joy is short lived and always edged in achingly raw heartbreak. At times I found it difficult to go on yet I also found I could not let go, challenged by the intriguing characters and fascinated by a time and place long gone.
The intimate relationships between the members of the Nancarrow family are compelling. The way in which they turn sour, love twisted by ambition, jealousy and tragedy, lasting happiness elusive. Yet I couldn’t help but admire their resilience and the way in which they kept moving forward despite broken minds, bodies and dreams.
Mears also explores the burdens of family legacies and the narrow fate of those tied to the land and it’s vagaries. The harsh realities of farming in the bush and the drudgery of day to day existence is detailed without sentiment or the rosy glow of nostalgia. While tightly focused on the Nancarrow family, and One Tree Hill Farm, the story encompasses the events of society, touching on the world wars and their impact on the home front.

It’s easy to see why the literati were so taken by Foal’s Bread which was nominated for several of Australia’s literary awards this year and won quite a few. Combining powerful storytelling with a strong, original narrative firmly grounded in Australia’s unique landscape, Foal’s Bread is a remarkable novel.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 1girl2manybooks
    Nov 27, 2012 @ 11:16:02

    I really liked this book, it was so beautifully written and the beginning haunted me

    Reply

  2. Michael @ Literary Exploration
    Nov 27, 2012 @ 13:41:14

    I really should get onto this book

    Reply

  3. Marg
    Nov 27, 2012 @ 22:12:28

    I am not sure that I am not the only reader in Australia who didn’t fall for this book. I think it didn’t help that I read it over a period of a few weeks to a schedule and I think I had too much time to think about it.

    Reply

    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Nov 28, 2012 @ 13:22:26

      Actually Marg I understand where you are coming from, I would have found it difficult to dip in and out of out.

      Reply

  4. Trackback: AWW 2012 Challenge Wrap-up: Literary Awards/Classics Part 1 « Australian Women Writers Challenge

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