Combined Reviews: Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears

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foals_bread.jpg    Foal's Bread
Gillian Mears
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
The long-awaited new novel from the award-winning author of The Grass Sister tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and the high-jumping horse circuit prior to the Second World War. A love story of impossible beauty and sadness, it is also a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard.


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. Written in luminous prose and with an aching affinity for the landscape the book describes, Foal's Bread is the work of a born writer at the height of her considerable powers. It is a stunning work of remarkable originality and power, one that confirms Gillian Mears' reputation as one of our most exciting and acclaimed writers.


Owen Richardson in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Gillian Mears was never merely promising: the short stories she published and the Vogel-award-winning The Mint Lawn, all written when she was still in her 20s, showed a talent already working at a high level. In all these books, there was the vitality of a young writer but it was managed by the intelligence and control of a fully mature artist. The Mint Lawn, in particular, is already a contemporary classic and its follow-up, The Grass Sister, kept the standard. It's been 16 years since that last novel. Time and energy have been given over to the battle with illness recounted in her matchless personal essays published in Heat. With Foal's Bread, it's good to see one of our best writers is back in the game...One of the things this book is full of is country myth and superstition - the knowledge of people living at some distance from modern life. Foal's Bread, we learn early on, is something like a little slice of bread a foal has in its mouth when it is born: 'His hands tried to describe the shape and size of the mystery. Fact is, no one knows what it is exactly. In a high-jump foal, it's a sure sign he'll go the heights; for a galloper, fast.' And as the book progresses, it turns out not only to be a mystery - one of the unknowable workings of the world - but a symbol of survival."

Helen Elliott in "The Age": "When a writer of the calibre of Gillian Mears publishes her first novel in 16 years, it's time to sit up straight and take note. Mears wins awards with everything she publishes: the Vogel, the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Steele Rudd Australian Short Story Award are all notches on her belt. Foal's Bread is another...It is the story of how Noah and Roley, sustained by the high hopes and intense love of youth, set about married life in the cruellest decades of last century. It is the 20th century but life is not far removed from pioneering life. Geographically, the story is contained within a small country district of New South Wales, where annual shows with serious equestrian events are the highlight of the year...Foal's Bread is, gloriously, about horses and the people who are in thrall to them...Another notch, Gillian Mears."

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers Blog": "Foal's Bread is not a book to 'enjoy', but I suspect that it will be one of the most talked-about novels of this publishing year. Mears is renowned for her cathartic style and for the way she has 'cannibalized' her own life in her fiction. How readers will interpret that remains to be seen, but it's a very powerful book. Press on through the early bits, it's worth it."

"Whispering Gums" weblog: "Reading this book reminded me a little of reading Tim Winton's Breath. Mears does for horse high-jumping what Winton did for surfing. She made me feel the joy and beauty of the jump, of pushing oneself to achieve just that little bit more in a risky sport, of having a dream that keeps you going, of doing "the impossible". Mears, like Winton, knows her subject inside out, and you feel it in her writing."

Carmen Callil in "The Monthy": "Gillian Mears's new novel tells the story of the Nancarrow family of One Tree Farm, subsistence farmers in rural New South Wales. Its heroine Noah ('Noey') is 14 when the novel begins in 1926; her daughter Lainey is a grandmother as it comes to a close in our century. There is a mother-in-law of monstrous proportions, aunts, children and neighbours, all placed in a horse-jumping and farming community as vividly Australian as anything celebrated in the poems of Les Murray. And uncles: after reading Foal's Bread uncles can never seem the same to any niece...Many moments jar but it's all worth it: this is a powerful, intricate novel of true originality. We must take such an individual voice as it comes, and be grateful for it."

Kim on the "Reading Matters" weblog: "It's a story about love, sex, joy, sadness, jealousy and ambition. It's about complicated families and the ways in which history often repeats itself within those families. It's about the hardship of living on the land in the years between the wars, of milking cows and breeding horses, despite floods, drought and raging bush fires. But above all it's about aspiring to better things -- and chasing dreams...This probably sounds like a soap opera, but Mears refrains from emotionally manipulating the reader. Indeed, the novel is completely free of sentiment, but somehow, in giving her narrative such a strong sense of time and place, you get so caught up in the mood of Foal's Bread that it's hard not to care for the people she writes about. "


ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".

Pip Newling from "Readings".

Book Guru on the "Booktopia" weblog.

"Fancy Goods weblog.

Susan Johnson in "The Advertiser".

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 15, 2012 7:19 AM.

Discussion of Christopher Brennan, Part 1 was the previous entry in this blog.

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