Three books in one never quite cohere, in the first US appearance for this bestselling British author.
Intertwined lives and eras add up to a scattershot fictional history of England from 1850 on, centering on the village of Church Norton, near an ancient image carved into a chalk hillside centuries ago: a leaping horse. In no particular order, we meet brave Harry Latimer, a cavalry soldier, fighting and suffering in the Crimea; and Rachel, his brother Hugo’s beautiful wife, and their unborn child who is “no more than a pulsing, translucent comma of flesh in Rachel’s womb” when Hugo dies. Ere long, Harry, too, expires dramatically amidst the buttercups with his mare Clemmie; then it’s forward to the present where skinny Stella, “a butterfly bruised but as yet unbroken on the wheel of adulation,” seeks solace from the pain of a failed love affair and the diminishing expectations of her singing career (she’s lead vocalist for a trendy band called Sorority). A late-night journey into her soul leads her somehow to a hillside where she comes across yet another mare in the throes of a difficult birth. Fortunately, her lover Robert soon arrives to help out. Then there’s Spencer, an American veteran of WWII who once loved a girl from Church Norton: Janet, an English rose if ever there was one. But first, a flashback to the rustic hamlet of Moose Draw, Wyoming, and Spencer’s adolescence, featuring the local girl he loved and may have impregnated, and, yes, more horses. (In a self-conscious aside, the author notes that there are many English people in Moose Draw.) Flash forward to the early 1960s and Spencer’s attempt to reunite with Janet. Meanwhile, 40 years in the future, Stella and Robert successfully deliver a wobbly foal.
Overwrought and overlong. Horsy symbolism and metaphors of rebirth can’t tie this confusing tale together, and a lot of it is simply silly.