Horse by Geraldine Brooks

I have not read Brooks’s previous books, one of which won a Pulitzer. (Not necessarily a selling point for me.) This one I enjoyed tremendously. It is historical fiction based on real people and events, at least in the portions set in the distant past. The present-day scenes I would guess are purely fictional.

Is this a book about a horse? Well, yes–a famous 19th-century racehorse called Lexington. But it’s really a story of race relations in America, past and present. Brooks weaves a tale of antebellum horse racing in the South, and the role of enslaved grooms, jockeys, and trainers in that business. She also delves into the world of equestrian art.

I always enjoy history presented in a way that ties the past to the present and demonstrates how some things persist–not necessarily the good ones. In the present-day sections of the book, we see a scientific approach to horse anatomy, and even to art. But the Black/white issues in the U.S. seem condemned to remain purely reactionary and emotional, perpetually unenlightened.

In this day of hyper-sensitivity about cultural appropriation, a book like Horse would seem to make a perfect target. The story hinges on the POV of two Black male characters, one enslaved in the 1850s, one a modern graduate student of art history–half-Nigerian, but not American–living in Washington, DC. Yet it is written by a white, female Australian.

I’m all for sensitivity, but believe writers should be unfettered in their choice of subject matter and characters, not censored by wokeness. Brooks engages the reader with period detail and action. She also reveals the ever-present human flaws we all possess, regardless of skin color, sex, or culture. Her characters have depth and inner conflicts, as well as issues in dealing with one another. If it’s cultural appropriation, it’s done well.

19 thoughts on “Horse by Geraldine Brooks”

  1. I think this would be a book I’d enjoy, based on this description from your review:

    “Brooks weaves a tale of antebellum horse racing in the South, and the role of enslaved grooms, jockeys, and trainers in that business. She also delves into the world of equestrian art.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We read this for book club. Apparently there was a lot of criticism over the author who wrote it. I agree that it’s ridiculous. Writers write. End of discussion. But, I didn’t love this book. I felt the characters were flat and one dimensional

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it is. In thinking of your comment, I realize it wasn’t the characters, but the events that really drove the story and kept me engaged. That’s much the way I interact with the world in general, so it makes sense for me to find that enjoyable.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My book club ranged from average to love. I didn’t hate it, but it’s hard to tackle that many different pov’s, and I think they had the same slant. I think of it as an agenda book…and I don’t think she’s good enough to pull that off. The big surprise from my book club was that no one but me got what was going to happen

        Liked by 1 person

      3. As a writer of fiction, you figure out certain words or scenes are not filler. In this one it was an early chapter where the author wrote something about branded merchandise of elite universities. I noticed it because my daughter attends said university, and the sentence was too carefully crafted within the scene. I knew it then

        Liked by 1 person

      4. My writer friends and I say once you look behind the curtain you can’t go back. It’s a catch 22 with foreshadowing…you want the reader to be surprised…however, the surprise needs to make sense. The steps of the novel need to lead to the outcome. What makes a book great is the subtlety with which the author does this. I remember reading a really popular thriller and I guessed who done it because the book was written with each chapter being a different POV, and I realized early one you never saw the pov of one of the main characters. Of course they had to be the killer…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I read novels to be entertained, so I don’t work very hard to see through the author’s plotting. I’m willing to let them take me for a ride. Now, though, I’m rather peeved that yesterday’s Wordle was “horse” and I didn’t get it until the 5th guess!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Omg I know!! It took me five as well and we’d just been talking about it!! You know when you can’t unsee something? I can’t help but miss the plotting in novels…it’s there. But it’s also why I read a lot if “beach reads”….those are strictly for entertainment, and it’s why I watch cooking and home design shows…it’s creativity I can’t imagine.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s