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Foal's Bread

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,030 Ratings  ·  165 Reviews
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 th ...more
Paperback, 360 pages
Published November 2011 by Allen & Unwin (first published January 1st 2011)
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Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Hard to review this one. This lady is a great writer, obviously very clever and on the top of her game, but with a subject matter so dark it was hard to enjoy. Maybe if you were a horse lover you could totally appreciate (and understand) it all, but a lot of it was lost on me. And.... I have a 9 month old boy, first pages are grueling and the subject with which they relate is hard to digest, when you read the novel you'll understand my point. But it's one of those books which I'd say do read, to ...more
Penni Russon
Apr 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
The great strength of this novel was the heightened language, the way that words were charged with their own kind of magic, flowing through everything: the body of the horse, the night sky, lightning, the earth's crust, the fences and bridges and farm buildings, the child, the mother... Drawing strongly on a distinctly Indigenous way of understanding the connectedness of all things, the novel is a respectful attempt to reconcile white Australia and Indigenous experiences, it stares frankly at th ...more
Jul 18, 2012 rated it liked it
When I was a little girl, there were three exciting events in the year: Christmas, Easter and the Foster Show – which took place on the third Saturday of February each year. It still does. I went last year for the first time in almost forty years and enjoyed it again. The dog high jump, the decorated cakes, the knitting and the chooks. All great. Foal’s Bread made me remember what status the show had in the lives of country people. Gillian Mears, speaking on the ABC, said that she wanted to writ ...more
Simone Sinna
Dec 05, 2012 rated it really liked it

I knew this was a Literary book when I bought it. I was at the Premier’s literary awards and it won. It had Helen Garner on the cover saying it was “glorious” and the person who took the award on her behalf talking about her in hushed tones that along with the comments from the author at the end (which I read first) and the article in the paper, I knew this was a long time coming, a special book from a special person who among other things is well qualified to write about a chronic insidious ill
Deborah Biancotti
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Gillian Mears’ searing novel of Australia, Foal’s Bread, was sixteen years in the making. It was published in late 2011 with the publishers Allen & Unwin, and then proceeded to win the 2012 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction and The Australian Literary Society’s 2012 Gold Medal while also winning or being shortlisted for eleven other Australian prizes. While apparently still not available in bookstores in the U.S., it is available new or used from mostly overseas sellers ...more
Helen Stower
Jan 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Foal's Bread is the story of an Australian family living in Northern New South Wales and spans the inter-war and WW2 years. The Nancarrow family are dairy people and show jumping runs in the blood. This show jumping is the tough show jumping of the Australian country shows not the regal showjumping of upper class toffs. Life too is tough and this is a book of courage and resilience.

The paths of Noah Childs and Roley Nancarrow intercept at the Port Lake Show where they are both entered in the jum
Dillwynia Peter
Aug 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
For over 2/3rds of this novel, I was bored to hell and driven nuts. It took way, way too long for me to get through it & I felt like dozens of pages reminded me of mentally swimming in molasses. Why?

Unlike everyone else on Goodreads, who have gushed over this novel, I have read Katherine Susannah Prichard, Kylie Tennant, Vance & Nellie Palmer. I had problems telling Mears apart from these authors – which is a problem for me seeing as they wrote in the 30s to 60s & Mears is supposed t
Carol -  Reading Writing and Riesling
Jan 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
This is a remarkable story of rural Australia between the wars – times were tough and the people of this landscape, tougher. Mears writes this bitter sweet love story with panache and colour, tears and heartache, joy and disappointment. As readers we mount the horses with Noh, Rol and Lainey and feel the air crackle with electricity as we fly over the impossibly high jumps We sample Aunty Ral’s cakes and lollies and fall in love with baby George. We break our hearts and cry silent tears for this ...more
Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

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 t
Jan 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Like many of the other reviews I have read since finishing this book, I am unsure if I liked it or not. I think, not.

I didn't like many of the characters with the exception of Rol and Lainey, who were the only two warm, kind and insightful people in the book.

Noah was a very damaged girl and woman who was completely unable to express her love for those nearest to her and dealt with negative emotions by lashing out at animals and drinking.

As a horse and animal lover, I was surprised by the main
It took me a while to read this, and it's not 'enjoyable' reading, but to understand the human condition better, it's well worth reading.
See my review at
Apr 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This bowled me over. I hope it becomes an Australian classic.
I put off reading this for a long time, because while it was always described as 'good' it was also described as 'grim', 'heartbreaking' or 'devastating'. My plan was actually to read the first part, and see how I felt. The problem of course is that Mears hits you right out the gate, with an evocative scene so infused with gentle horror that the book has you in its clutches and won't let go, while you struggle to recover. We watch as a child, abused and seeing no choices, carries out acts she ha ...more
Sep 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
See my full review here - http://booksaremyfavouriteandbest.wor...

It’s taken me quite a few days to write this review. It wasn’t a matter of deciding whether or not I liked Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears. In many ways, there’s not much to ‘like’ – it’s bleak, tough, crushing. But it’s also brilliant. In fact, the first chapter of this stunning book will never leave me. It’s the start of a hundred little heart-breaks for the main character, Noah Childs, and as the reader I shared every last one wi
Lizzy Chandler
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I first came across Gillian Mears' Foal's Bread in 2012 when participants of the Australian Women Writers Challenge posted their reviews. Eleven reviews appeared that year, the vast majority of which were laudatory. This was a special book, I realised. It could sneak inside your soul, break your heart, move even the most prosaic reviewer to poetry.

Opening the beautiful dust jacket with its glimpse of a galloping horse, I began to read, only soon to slam the book shut again. The initial pages are
Kay Hart
Dec 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The novel Foal’s Bread’ is a very fine piece of writing indeed in which author Gillian Mears has drawn from aspects of her knowledge of horses and the jump-circuit events at country shows as well as her own early life in northern NSW farming country. The setting for the novel is the ‘hardscrabble’ countryside to be found in northern NSW during the period prior to World War II.
As much as it is a love story Foal’s Bread also evokes the day-to-day harshness and unrelenting hard work required to ru
Jennifer (JC-S)
Nov 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jennifer (JC-S) by:
Shelves: librarybooks
‘To look into the eye of a horse is to see a reflection of yourself that you might’ve forgotten.’

On an autumn afternoon in 1926 Cecil Childs and his 14 year old daughter Noah set up camp beside the river on a property called ‘One Tree’. They are drovers – driving pigs, destined to become bacon in Sydney. Cecil Childs hurries off to town, anxious to drink with his mates. Noah, who wasn’t really aware that she was pregnant, gives birth to a premature baby in the company of the pigs. The father of
Julia Tulloh Harper
'Foal's Bread' is grim, jubilant, violent, gentle, magical, heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. I would probably give this 4.5 stars, but happy to round to 5 because it's so wonderfully written and I don't think I'll ever forget any of the characters. This book has to be destined to become an Australian classic.

Set in the 1910s and 20s, it follows a family of farmers and horse jumpers - mostly Noey, her husband Roley, and her daughter Lainey. The story isn't plot driven but there i
Helen King
Oct 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, australian
I think my ratings for this book suffered from my overly high expectations. It had some interesting ideas, but they never fully resonated with me. I felt I was reading from a distance, and didn't engage with the main characters, which was a shame - their lives were full of experiences that called out for connection. I think it could just be me, though.
Oct 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
There's a line on page 220 that made the whole book worth reading.
May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The novel tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and the high-jumping horse circuit before WWII. It is set in a fictional northern NSW town called Wirri. Noah, a fourteen-year-old girl whose mother died after birthing her, is as harsh and rugged as the world in which she is growing up. She is neglected by her alcoholic father and in the Preamble, the reader learns that ‘… in her fourteen-year-old womb a dead uncle’s baby grows …’.

Noah gives birth to the child alone and by a r
Alison Stegert
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aussie
Gillian Mears captures the heart and voice of country Australia in Foal's Bread, her first novel after a sixteen year hiatus. Spanning a few decades from the Thirties, the story chronicles the highs and lows of the life of Noah Childs, a girl whose early experiences shape her into gritty, flinty, broken woman. A necessary but cold-hearted decision she makes as a motherless girl haunts her throughout her life. Noah is physically strong and loves fiercely, but she completely lacks an emotional voc ...more
Francene Carroll
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The past evoked in this novel isn’t as distant as many might think. As a city-bred person living in a tiny rural community in the Australian bush (and treasurer of my local show society) I can attest that many of the traditions surrounding the annual show live on, as do the inarticulateness and stoic approach to life of the book’s characters. I felt that this book captured life in a rural community so perfectly. The blending of colloquial language with poetic descriptions was wonderful and for m ...more
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australia
This book is - at least superficially - about horses, which would normally mean I would put it straight back on the bookshop shelf and move on to something else. But a couple of months ago I was at a book event with another Australian author, Michelle de Kretser, and got talking to her London publisher. I have had a soft spot for Australian fiction since the time I spent living there, but very little of it gets published - or publicised - in the UK, so I asked the publisher for a few recommendat ...more
Graeme Wilkins
Aug 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
There is no doubting Gillian Mears accomplished writing. She has written from personal understanding of country Australia and especially her understanding of horses and horse jumping is central to the narrative.
Foal's Bread weaves a saga of life, love, lust and loss that is rich and evocative of a day to day "tell it like it is" experience.
Mears' catch phrase for the book - "hope on, hope ever" - seems to well sum up the lives of these battlers as their circumstances change providing for palpabl
Dec 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've just finished this book and oh, how I cry. You know how certain people you meet in books keep giving you their stories years after you first read them? I strongly suspect I will never forget these horses and the hurts of this complex family.

Mears gets that once you're horsemad, you're horsemad forever and there is simply no other way of looking at the world. Mears gets the poetry of the horse, especially the spirt of the raggedy bush-basher and how it feels to finally experience that perfe
Anna Spargo-Ryan
Jan 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: australiana
I liked it. The prose is beautiful, no doubt about it. Each character has a harrowing story. The way the author toys with language, especially dialogue, is interesting and makes for an absorbing read.

I did feel that Mears dropped the ball on a lot of the themes, though. There are some really strong threads and beginnings of themes: the foal's bread being the most obvious, but also the lightning, the jacaranda, the alcoholism. Each of these elements seems to just prod at the edges of being fully
Karen Leopoldina
Mar 05, 2012 rated it liked it
I like books not horses, so to read a book about horses was always going to be a stretch. But it's such a sexy looking book with its tactile cover and that stunning photograph. So I thought why not: it felt good, it looked good and the weather all rain and grey skies, just perfect for cosying up with a heavy book. What struck me most was the quality of the writing. Mears' prose is lean and spare and she works her sentences hard as she tries to capture the almost elemental lives of people eking a ...more
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, australian
Mears makes you feel so emotionally invested in her characters. I really am having trouble putting into words just how powerful, evocative, yet so gentle this wonderful book is. Set against the backdrop of farm life between the two world wars, it is about how one mistake can haunt you forever – but more than that, it is a true love story. It really is full of all kinds of love. I think I will carry the story of Noah and Roley in my heart for a long time. Brimming with country life, particularly ...more
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Aussie Readers: Foal's Bread giveaway until 18 December 2011 1 11 Dec 03, 2011 10:49PM  
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Gillian Mears was an Australian short story writer and novelist.
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