Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks is famous for having brought us her own distinctive take on the Black Plague, the life of King David, and the search for a rare manuscript during the Bosnian War, among other things. This time around, she’s delving into the astonishing true story of America’s most famous horse (that nobody’s ever heard of).

Lexington was a phenomenon, a champion both on the racetrack in his short career (winning six of his seven races) and on the stud farm in his retirement. But as the memories of his fame faded, so too did his place in the history books, and up until a few years ago, his skeleton was languishing in a dusty attic in the Smithsonian Institute.

Brooks brings to (fictional) life the three main players in Lexington’s life – his early owner, Warfield; his second owner, Ten Broek; and his trainer Jarret Lewis, a Black man who was as much the property of Lexington’s owners as the horse was. This isn’t just the story of a horse: this is the story of racism and prejudice running throughout different periods of American history. It’s the story of a modern-day romance between two scholars. It’s the story of skeletons and beetles that eat dead flesh. But at its core, it’s the love story of the man, Jarret Lewis, and the horse, Lexington.

As with each of Brooks’ books, the historical detail is astonishing, and you can’t escape the sense that this is really and truly the way things happened. The barns, the barbers, the drawing rooms, the streets, are all skilfully and convincingly drawn. The cruelty of humankind towards animals, as well as the cruelty of humankind towards itself feels real. This is a huge book, with enormous themes, beautifully and engagingly written. Expect it on all the prize lists this year. Brilliant!

Gabrielle Williams is the Readings Prize manager

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Geraldine Brooks

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