Book Review – THE HORSES by William Lane
The Horses Synopsis :
On the outskirts of Sydney, a boys’ boarding school prides itself on the horses it keeps. David, a gifted working class student, receives a scholarship to attend. At the same time Gregory, a new master, is appointed. Both soon learn, from their different perspectives, that what is said bears little relation to what is done. The school isolates itself from the outside world and over the course of several months of rain, the atmosphere inside the school becomes increasingly lawless and violent. School buildings slip away in floods. Underlying differences between various parties in the school turn into open conflicts, and the school community begins breaking up. These tensions are focussed in the conflict between two masters, Val and Mr C. These two men loathe one another, and both recruit boys in the war of ideas they are waging.
The Horses seems unique in Australian literature, exploring with great subtlety the complex way in which class can perpetuate itself through the education of its children. Reminiscent of J. G. Ballard’s High Rise, set in an apartment complex designed to isolate its residents from the outside world, and Patrick White’s writing in its satirical impulse leavened by compassion for the individual, Lane’s new novel is never anything less than startlingly fresh and original. (TransitLounge)
The Horses is a novel that quickly gets inside your mind. William Lane’s smooth prose and initial focus on practical details cleverly lulls the reader into a blinkered mindset, which is in fact the real focus of this novel.
There are early literary flags for attentive readers that something is a little awry though.
The horses scattered about were unlike any he had seen. Somehow luminous and barrel-chested, they shone in buttery colours, cream and vanilla, coffee and chocolate. Proud and beautiful they were, rounded and tall, straight from an Uccello painting. Were they draught horses, he asked? Parsons snorted again, and stamped his foot.
‘But they don’t look normal,’ persisted Gregory. ‘They look – well, polished or something. Like ivory, like chess set horses.’
There are many more nods to the equine theme (some subtle, others not) and other literary references to appreciate throughout the novel.
William Lane presents a situation that at times seems entirely plausible but at others absurd. The darkest of satire, on occasion reminiscent of that within Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall (and Vile Bodies), left me pondering my amused response to characters actions that in normal circumstances would evoke disgust.
My conflicted feelings were, I expect, Lane’s intention when moderating the satirical elements by the inclusion of characters who exist outside of the farce – a reminder that none of us are wholly immune to the influence of context.
The Horses leads readers to reflect upon how easily people can band together to perpetuate a delusion. It explores the insidious nature of paranoia and the lengths to which people may resort to silence those who threaten to expose a chimera. It presents a sharp reminder of the culpability of those who fail to act and in doing so preside over a disaster.
In The Horses Lane has capably and artfully tackled difficult and important issues, whose reach into broader society should not be underestimated.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Genre: Drama, Literature, Mystery
This review counts towards my participation in the 2015 Aussie Author Challenge.
William Lane lives in the Hunter Valley, NSW, where he is raising three children. After completing an Honours degree in Australian literature, he travelled and worked in a number of different jobs. In addition to reading and writing, his interests include music and education. He is currently completing a doctorate on the Australian writer, Christina Stead. William has had several critical articles on Stead published in literary journals, and his short story ‘Children’s Hospital’ appeared in the anthology Things that are Found in Trees and Other Stories (2012).
Other reviews of The Horses : Write Note Reviews
* My receiving a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.