Eliza Henry-Jones on horses and grief
Eliza Henry-Jones is the author of In the Quiet. Here she talks about the role horses and grief play in her novel.
I think many of us have gone through phases of pony obsession – bedrooms filled with the silhouettes of little plastic ponies (My Little Ponies or Barbie’s Pegasus if you were really lucky) and stacks of yellowing school library books with horses on the cover. Who hasn’t been misty eyed at The Saddle Club and begged for a pony called Cobalt?
There are a lot of horses in In the Quiet. Aside from my intense obsession with them (I used to cry when I saw them in paddocks) I think there’s something ethereal about horses. Something almost otherworldly that goes beyond their size, their shape, their behaviour. It’s something intrinsic and difficult to pull apart.
In the Quiet is narrated by a mother who has died and is now watching her family working through their grief on their rural horse property. It’s a reflection on grief and family, and also an exploration of coming of age as we watch her children grow. Much of the family’s grief is explored through their interactions and relationships with their mother’s horses. While mostly a story of different kinds of grief and grieving, it’s also very much a story about the emotions that exist alongside and are entwined with grief. And horses provide a perfect space to explore this – both within In the Quiet and out in the wider world.
Horses are strong, beautiful and unfathomable, yet they’re also undignified, silly and frustrating. (My horse Bertie frequently gets frightened of his own tail and my other horse, Cheque, used to furiously nap in his paddock and not get up when he didn’t want to be ridden.) Horses are fleet and fast moving, but they’re also heavy, slow and dozy – providing us both a means of fast escape and a reason to be grounded, to stay where we are. Horses create and soothe fear, as they create and soothe frustration. Their juxtaposition is extreme and fascinating. In terms of In the Quiet, horses facilitated me in creating a world where I was able to explore some pretty big issues, yet still remain warm; a world that’s not discomforting to exist in as a reader, regardless of the losses explored.
My own experiences of grief have been tightly entwined with horses. It’s horse books that I’ve been drawn to read for comfort, and horses that I’ve sketched into the margins of notebooks and the corners of newspapers. I’ve worked as an equine therapist, using horses in therapy sessions for families and vulnerable children. Wanting to explore grief and loss, it seemed natural for me to do so alongside the flicking of tails, the drumming of hooves and the smell of grass and grains and sweat.