Book Review – Horse

This was another book that was not in my typical reading genres of fantasy and science fiction, but sometimes it’s good to take a look at something else. Horse (paid link) by Geraldine Brooks is a novel based on true history that tells a story across multiple timelines.

I read this in hardcover.

Here is the blurb:

A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history

Kentucky, 1850. An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack.

New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.

Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse–one studying the stallion’s bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success.

Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.

I was not familiar with this author before reading Horse, although it looks like another one of her novels, March (paid link), won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. However, I was happy to have read this sprawling tale that stretched over three (mostly two) different time periods. The author clearly has a background with horses, and the details of their husbandry and training felt real and accurate.

While one of the themes in this book is how slavery and racism affected the characters, I felt like we didn’t see the full effect of that in what this novel shows. The groom, Jarret, is a slave throughout the book, but could have had it far worse if he had not had the affinity with the horse, Lexington, or the knowledge that he did. However, the focus of the story is the horse, so it was necessary to have Jarret’s character stay with him to portray that.

The blurb made the story out to be more of a mystery than it actually was, and as a reader, it was obvious how the three timelines connected. The emphasis in the book was more on how the characters in the modern timeline rediscovered the history that had been lost over time and likely suppressed by racism. I want to also comment on the ending of the book, but want to avoid spoilers. I will just say that I was not surprised by how the story wrapped up in the current day timeline, but that it is tragic that we still struggle against the same problems in different centuries.

Have you read Horse or any other books by Geraldine Brooks? Are there more non-sci-fi/fantasy books you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments (above).

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