I am not particularly a fan of horses or horse-riding tales, though I did enjoy most of Dick Francis's books for their readability, suspense, and easy holiday-reading qualities. Smiley is, however, a far more skilled author who cares not only about the fun factor and entertainment in her work, but also writes beautifully and is clearly an accomplished stylist.
Horse Heaven is an engaging drama steeped in the dizzying world of horse racing, breeding, and buying. There are many characters here both human and horse. In fact, that is one of the most enjoyable parts of the story: the horses themselves. Smiley writes part of the narrative from the perspective of the horses, what they think, what they feel, and why they decide to do certain things under given circumstances. Smiley puts you into the mind of the horse (and even a Jack Russell terrier), and for the most part, it works out just fine.
There is a load of interesting information to be gleaned here about the world of horses: racing, breeding, jumping, chasing. You learn about the different kinds of tracks, courses, races, and the techniques of trainers, the tricks and cheats of bent veterinarians, the foibles of owners with more money than sense, the skills of jockeys, the auctions, the injuries and mental damage to horses, the abuse of the animals, but also (mostly) the love and care of the animals, the sometimes seemingly magical bond that can develop between human and horse, the illicit affairs, the stories of true love, broken love, and, of course, the murky psychology involved in inveterate gambling.
The track is a vibrant character in the book itself, a city outside familiar urban spaces, which is the life's blood to many, and the bane of just as many. Overall it is a huge drama spanning a couple of years in the racing world in all its complexity. Smiley takes you on a journey following the fortunes and failures of a small cast of horses and a larger cast of humans: trainers, owners, buyers, riders, doctors, investors. The horse characters are very individual and from all sorts of backgrounds; you follow their careers, either the start or the end of them, the rise to fame or the fading of fortunes, the development of young talent or the retirement of former talents. I found it page-turning, well written (Smiley has won the Pulitzer for her A Thousand Acres), and overall it is an uplifting, positive story.
The one reservation I had is that Smiley treated "animal psychics" rather uncritically: I did not find the description of a woman who could read the minds of and have real conversations with all sorts of animals, including horses, from anywhere around the globe, very believable. As a sceptic, I found it downright irritating at times but I must caution that this objection is a personal one, and has nothing to do with the quality of writing, the skill of the author, or (if you are not a sceptic) the enjoyment of the book.
So, I recommend this book as a good read, indeed one that is definitely a cut above your average gobbet of pulp fiction. Smiley is an accomplished author who manages not to spoil enjoyment with overly serious or difficult literary techniques and themes. This is pulp fiction on steroids, a rousing good read that still maintains a respectable intellectual level.
If you are interested in all things horsey, I can wholly recommend Horse Heaven. Aside from providing page-turning entertainment, I found it quite educational....Continua
Definitely a Summer book, hard to be put down once you are in it. One of those epics with many characters, overlapping stories and description of the horse world. One of those books you are sorry to part with, wishing there was a sequel so you don't have to miss it's characters. Justa Bob rules! Recommended to all horse lovers and to those who never thought about horses in their life....Continua