Allen & Unwin
Original, compelling and textured with sensuous subtlety, Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread is a sweeping saga onion-layered with passion, sex, sorrow, deep secrets, jealousy, euphoria and aspiration. And although it is set in Depression-era NSW, within the stifling boundaries of a small rural district where annual shows with fiercely competitive show-jumping are the community highpoints, it carries universal reach.
In a tender yet poignant romance clothed within the arresting, droll cadences of a long-gone vernacular, Mears unveils the complexities of family, and how history can haunt successive generations. Amid the casual brutalities of domestic life, the tyrannies of household relationships and the stunting effect of half-articulated emotions lie bittersweet insight and a curious liberation.
Central to the tale is the relationship between horse and human. Here, Mears vibrantly captures the muscular physicality of horses, the endless hours of toil and sweat and saddle-soaped care behind the empathy of steed and rider, the mysterious communion that can exist between the two, and the soaring elation when a jumping mount becomes a marvel of motion.
Foal’s Bread is leavened with engaging clarity and loving observation. Country fables and superstitions season a story that unwinds through a physical and spiritual terrain where love and the land allow shards of lucent joy amid a slog of caprice and cruelty. Mears deftly exposes the hard-won awareness and affinity of people who scrabble a living from a land that so often treats them with cavalier contempt, and how amid even embracing tragedy can come small triumphs that ennoble.
It is a masterly and moving tale that stays in the mind long after the reading.