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Although this novel is entitled “Horse” and is ostensibly about a magnificent historical horse and the prestigious horse races of the antebellum South. It is also about “race” itself. “Race” when used to define us simply by the pigmentation of our skin can be such a horrible word.

There are three timelines all linked together by a painting of "Lexington", the famous horse who the story revolves around.

Most of the book takes part in the 1850’s when the painting is painted. Also, most of the book takes place in the world of Horse Racing. Lexington is the equine equivalent of a rock star. He has the looks, the famous bloodline, but more importantly he has the speed and endurance to outpace any other horse he comes up against. The racing of these prestigious horses in this era was enormously popular, drawing crowds of unheralded numbers from every walk of life. Everybody had their favourites and grudge matches were common.

A second timeline takes place in the 1950’s with the painting falling into the hands of Martha Jackson, a gallery owner.

The third timeline is the present. Theo is a student working on his PhD. He finds the painting amongst the belongings of his neighbour’s dead husband. Belongings that his neighbour is leaving on the sidewalk. Theo meets Jess at the Washington Natural History Museum. Jess is working on articulating the skeleton of Lexington and is more than surprised to find out that Lexington is also the horse in the painting.

Although Martha and Jess are important characters, Jarret and Theo are the two that drive the story. Two Black men living in the past and present. The men could not be more different. Jarret lives in the 1850’s Kentucky. An uneducated slave who is a horse groom, developing an almost mystical bond with Lexington. While Theo, living in the present, went to boarding school and was the captain of the polo team.

Slavery is long gone, abolished, and yet over a century later the oppression is still there, more veiled, but still there lurking in the shadows. When Theo goes for a jog, he must remember to not wear certain clothes. A simple dark hoodie, worn by a white man remains a “simple dark hoodie”. Worn by a Black man it turns into, especially in the eyes of an American police officer, something sinister.

As much as I love horses, they are my favourite animal, for me this novel is about change, or lack thereof. How much change has really taken place in the time between the lives of the two men? Slavery has been abolished, but how important is the change of a law, if there is no change to an attitude? Can anything change without a change of thought? At times it feels as if the fear of a slave uprising from the past still clouds the minds of the present. I can only comment from incidents and shootings, that I, like millions from around the world, have read about, or watched on the seemingly never-ending streams. As a witness watching from a world away, it feels as if true change has not taken place. It feels as is one cultural group is still being oppressed, only not as openly. To me, racism is abhorrent, but I was brought up in a different world. How do you change an entire culture’s attitude?

There are many historical characters in this novel, but it is the characters brought to life by Brooks who drive the narrative and vie for your love and empathy. Characters who, although living in different centuries are bound together by the painting.

This novel is also about the relationship between Jarret and Lexington. Jarret’s love for this amazing animal. A love that is obviously reciprocated. It is about Jarret trying to buy his freedom, and escape from a world of slavery and oppression. It is about a country on the cusp of change.

Everything changes, nothing changes.

I will be reading more of Brook’s work.

Australian-born Geraldine Brooks is an author and journalist who grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, and attended Bethlehem College Ashfield and the University of Sydney. She worked as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald for three years as a feature writer with a special interest in environmental issues.

In 1982 she won the Greg Shackleton Australian News Correspondents scholarship to the journalism master’s program at Columbia University in New York City. Later she worked for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in the the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans.

She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her novel March. Her first novel, Year of Wonders, is an international bestseller, and People of the Book is a New York Times bestseller translated into 20 languages. She is also the author of the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence.

Video from Martha's Vineyard Productions.


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