The Naseby Horses by Dominic Brownlow – a powerful novel of crisis and mystery for people and place
This is a book which attempts to define the undefinable. The connection between siblings. The aura which only some people can see. The way that the history of a place can seep into both the natural aspect of the surroundings and the buildings that have stood there for many years. This is a book which suggests that memory is not just that which personal to an individual, but that it dominates community for generations. A book which gathers in the countryside and wildlife around a house which is already transformed by its atmosphere is undoubtedly powerful. The story has at its heart a mystery; a missing girl, a teenager. This is a mystery which is not a sudden spontaneous event, however, as there is soon evidence that the narrator’s relationship with his sister is not straightforward and there is a suggestion of knowledge which defies explanation. Moreover, there is an enormous volume and pressure of history which suggests that there is an element of the missing in this area of the country. This is a mystic and metaphorical novel in which atmosphere is dominant and everyone and everything is seen, as much as it can be, through the eyes of a newcomer who is struggling to formulate his response. I am glad that I was given the opportunity to read and review this book.
The book tells the intense story of Simon, a seventeen year old who has experienced epileptic seizures for most of his life, and has been trying to find a way of coping with the seizures themselves and the absence that he knows occur. There is also the aura, the space between consciousness and unconsciousness which he experiences before the seizures, which gives him a different perspective on the barriers between the present and the past. He tries to stabilize himself by reciting quotations from Berwicks Book of Birds, though he still sees the tiny details of his surroundings in an odd way. He becomes aware of people around him , both present and suggested. People present emotions that he struggles to deal with. His parents seesaw between fear, guilt, frantic worry and seeking normality. It is them that brought the family out of London into this bleak, obscure and mysterious Fenland village, and it is only an uncle who has any sense of Simon’s clinging onto the birds around him as a stabilising force. Meanwhile as the notion of the Horses associated with the battle of Naseby breaks in, Simon discovers the power of community memory of a curse that no one wants to admit to in so many words.
This is an intense, powerful and impressive debut novel by a unique voice. It makes an important contribution to the body of literature on mental health. Its view is in the form of an historical mysticism and a personal search for self as well as a missing sister. This is a challenging read in so many ways, and says so much about a reaction to the natural world in terms of awareness and concern. The presence of a disturbing painting, the invasion of the house by half seen people from the past, the mental confusion of the main character all add up to a disturbing and strong novel. This is a brave and unique novel, a strong novel and a powerful read. Well worth investigating, and an excellent choice for a new publisher, Louise Walters Books.