Deborah Biancotti's Reviews > Foal's Bread

Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears
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Aug 29, 2012

bookshelves: aww2012, writer-women

** spoiler alert ** I sat here & stared at the star ratings on goodreads for a while before I finally chose '5'. Because the phrase 'it was amazing' seemed to describe this book best. It is amazing.

I can't say I like it, though.

I spent around a hundred pages astonished at Mears' mastery, her strange, colloquial, lyrical language, the power of her character portraits. Then I put the book down for a long while & found no temptation to pick it up again. It's a slow, sad book.

But on page 167 - for no apparent reason that I can pinpoint - I stopped caring. I didn't care about finishing the book & I didn't care about any of its characters.

And so I began to read faster & faster, breaking into at least an awkward trot if not a graceful canter. At times I stumbled, because the language had stopped convincing me or because another slip in the point of view had jarred me out of the story. I stuck with it even though I knew the next 167 pages would be as miserable as the first, and despite sensing that this was not a 'learning' book, it was not about some moral teaching. It is a harsh book about a harsh place & how harsh a harsh life can make someone. At least, that's my interpretation.

I stuck with it because I was fascinated by the authorial techniques. Even when I didn't enjoy them (the slippery point of view is one of them).

But ultimately the reason I didn't like this book is very simple. It's because of the relentless cruelty. I expected more ... beauty, more love. I expected more *horses*, I'll be honest, & for the horses to have personalities & warmth & life. I expected to smell horse hair and feel the flick of a mane in my face. I felt, instead, rather trampled. The horses are there almost completely as objects of cruelty, the messy business end of a brutal family where the good characters (the baker, the mute brother) are sidelined for the sake of the nasty ones. As if in all the world there is only space for meanness and abuse.

It reminded me of two things: one, THE PAINTED BIRD, a book I loathe more than any other book I've ever loathed (and boy, have I loathed some books) for its blunt, sadistic grotesquerie. And two, THE SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL, a stageplay about the struggles of inarticulate people to articulate their greatest emotions. And yes, I didn't like that stageplay either. (I don't know why. Perhaps because I find it disingenuous of authors to write on behalf of 'the inarticulate'. But then, I don't know why THAT is. It's not like either work is particularly patronising. In fact, I should probably be glad when someone writes something that isn't middle-class & articulate. Hmmm. I digress.)

It's an extremely smart book. It's a book about grief, I guess, but it's stuck at the 'anger' stage.

It's a book that's full of rage.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Liz (new) - added it

Liz Brilliant review - thank you.

message 2: by Deborah (new) - added it

Deborah Biancotti Liz wrote: "Brilliant review - thank you."

Thanks for reading, Liz! :)

Mikaela Power Yes - summer of the 17th doll - how right you are! Foal's Bread captures a similar time and outlook, and its characters rage, too, just as you saw Mears doing throughout the book.

message 4: by Deborah (new) - added it

Deborah Biancotti Mikaela wrote: "Yes - summer of the 17th doll - how right you are!"

Thanks! Yeah, I found the similarities uncanny. :)

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