A pleasure today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of The Naseby Horses by Dominic Brownlow, due for publication in hardcover and ebook formats by Louise Walters Books on 5th December 2019 (the paperback will follow in June 2020). The book can be purchased (in either format) via Amazon in the UK and US, but for your hardback copy you might prefer to use Waterstones, The Book Depository, Blackwells or Foyles, or to make your purchase via the publisher’s website. My thanks to Emma at #damppebblesblogtours for the invitation and support, and to Louise for my advance reading e-copy.
I’ve mentioned before, I know, how much I look forward to every new release from this exceptional small publisher. The last one I read was Diana Cambridge’s exceptional debut, Don’t Think a Single Thought – destined for a place on my books-of-the-year list, and you can read my review again here. Louise’s stated aim is “to publish only the very best in adult literary and literary/commercial fiction, across all genres”, and her excitement was palpable and infectious as the publication date approached for the latest…
Seventeen-year-old Simon’s sister Charlotte is missing. The lonely Fenland village the family recently moved to from London is odd, silent, and mysterious. Simon is epileptic and his seizures are increasing in severity, but when he is told of the local curse of the Naseby Horses, he is convinced it has something to do with Charlotte’s disappearance. Despite resistance from the villagers, the police, and his own family, Simon is determined to uncover the truth, and save his sister.
Under the oppressive Fenland skies and in the heat of a relentless June, Simon’s bond with Charlotte is fierce, all-consuming, and unbreakable; but can he find her? And does she even want to be found?
Drawing on philosophy, science, and the natural world, The Naseby Horses is a moving exploration of the bond between a brother and his sister; of love; and of the meaning of life itself.
This really is the most extraordinary debut.
Its opening chapter catches you off-balance – day three, Simon’s on his way across the Fens, coming home from hospital, and his 17-year-old twin sister has already been missing for two days. And then the first thing that strikes you is the sheer beauty of the writing – the wonderful multi-sensory descriptions, the way every word is so cleverly chosen, the way the natural world is woven into its elegant prose. Simon has epilepsy, and the way his approaching episodes are described become something you experience with him – the fear, the departures from reality as the aura takes grip, and that all-pervading smell of sulphur.
Then there’s the recurring motif of the birds – their presence both real and imagined, the fear they induce, Simon’s obsessive repetition of passages from the book about the Bewick swan. And there’s the question mark always present about Simon’s reliability as a narrator, and the possibility that he knows more than he should about his sister’s disappearance.
There are significant elements of folk history – and the whole is accompanied by the oppressive heat, the sense of menace not only from the nearby village and its inhabitants, and the unique Fenland landscape. Then there are the touches of philosophy – I’ll admit that some of them lost me a little – and sometimes the downright strange. This really is quite a book.
If you ask me whether I enjoyed it, I think I have to say not entirely – my personal preference is for a more compelling narrative drive. But I could only admire the sinister edge, the evocative descriptions and the exquisite writing. Perhaps not a book everyone will love, but certainly an unforgettable experience.
About the author
Dominic Brownlow lives near Peterborough with his two children. He lived in London and worked in the music industry as a manager before setting up his own independent label. He now enjoys life in the Fens and has an office that looks out over water. The Naseby Horses is his first novel. It was long listed for the Bath Novel Award 2016.