Saturday, October 8, 2011

Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears Readalong Part One

The Foal's Bread Readalong is hosted by Danielle over at The Book Nerd Club.  Gillian Mears is an Australian novelist whose work I was unfamiliar with, but I do love a good tale with an Australian setting so was keen to give Foal's Bread a go. 

Information about the novel by publishers Allen & Unwin:

The long-awaited new novel from the award-winning author of The Grass Sister tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and the high-jumping horse circuit prior to the Second World War. A love story of impossible beauty and sadness, it is also a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard.

I am completely swept up in this story and these characters.  When I started reading Foal's Bread I was immediately  reminded of Australian novels that I read when I was a teenager, thanks to my mother's love of Australian fiction, by authors such as Ruth Park and E.V. Timms.  More recently, I have enjoyed this type of Australian setting and characters in novels by Tim Winton, Peter Carey and ChrisWomersley.  Foal's Bread is a brilliant example of this type of book: excellent writing, engaging plotting and characters that I know I will be weeping over before too long.

Spoiler Alert:  Discussion of Preamble to Chapter 6 so be warned.

I was shocked and compelled by the opening of the novel where the reader is introduced to fourteen year old Noah as she gives birth, with only pigs for company, in a cold mountain stream, all on her own.  I am certainly eager to see if the baby survived and reappears later in the novel. Or are we meant to assume that the baby drowned?  Either way it is powerful stuff, and not only gives the reader a clear idea of what young Noah's life has been like, but also a strong impression of her character and spirit.

There is a preamble before the story opens and while it is beautifully written, having a poetic and wistful feel to it, I am not sure that it really added anything for me.  This probably comes down to personal preference, but in my view, the Chapter 1 opening is really strong, and I don't know that the preamble actually achieves that rearview, or looking back perspective, that the author is possibly shooting for.  It made sense that way when I re-read it now, but I have only done that because I am writing about it.  Normally I don't think a reader would bother.

Foal's bread is a love story in the most wonderful, fleeting-joy-and-lots-of- tragedy, sense. And by the end of Chapter 6, the arc is well and truly descending into tough times for Roley and Noah.

I am loving it all.  It is dramatic and moving, without being too sentimental. 

I also find the characters in Roley's extended family delightful and really well drawn.  Can't you just imagine the sister who likes to bake and is especially kind to the children?

I also like the perspective of pre WWII Australia, and what the coming of the war, so close on the end of WWI,  meant for these regional areas.  Min's grief and protectiveness of her family make a lot of sense to me, as annoyingly frustrating as she is.

My final thought is that while there is lots of drama in the narrative, the characters continue to reveal more of themselves and develop in complexity, which is satisfying.  And, this really is the final thought, the relationship between Noah and Roley is wonderful and nuanced and oh so sad. I grew up with Jacaranda trees everywhere you see, and I daresay I will not look at their beautiful purple October carpet again without thinking of Noah and Roley.   I will stop before it becomes painful!  Two thumbs up from me so far.


  1. I couldn't believe what I was reading when she gave birth! and her uncle!!! ARGH! I have found the language quite difficult to get through

  2. Hi Kylie

    I have read your post, and really enjoyed it. I seem to be having a problem leaving a comment on your site - sorry.

    I agree the whole uncle business is sickening and as you say in your post, the dad is less than helpful, poor old Noah is pretty much left to fend for herself in every respect.

  3. I found the first couple of chapters difficult to deal with as I just couldn't really relate to Rowley's reactions to both her relationship with her uncle, his death and the baby. My heart broke for her, but I keep on waiting to see whether there will be further consequences further on.

    I think I have had a less enthusiastic response so far to the book than the other posts that I have read so far.

  4. I know, the birth thing was just so... shocking. I really would like to know what happened to the baby!!! I think the historical context is really great as I love that kind of thing, it will be interesting to see if and how they are affected by WWII

  5. Really agree about the preamble, not sure it really adds much to the reading, even though it is poetic and emotive. Also really agree about the Jacaranda tree, they're everywhere here in Perth and I really love them. I also love the gentle foreshadowing she uses, but not really looking forward to the sad times ahead!


Comments are very welcome.