Gillian Mears’ tender and sweetly troubling novel Foal’s Bread brings the reader back to the rural landscape of northern NSW before World War II. In the book, a young scrap of a girl, Noah, is spotted by renowned show jumper Roley Nancarrow, at the Port Lake Show, doing what he himself does best: horse high-jumping for prize money. Marrying and settling at the Nancarrow family’s One Tree farm with the rest of the clan, they pursue their crude, wishful dream of breeding horses for high-jump. However, malady, addiction, and loss make their hopes precarious. Vivid scenes repeat themselves as counterpoint – the closely witnessed birth of a foal mirrors another, much earlier told, illegitimate birth at night by Noah as she bathed in a cold river near the farm. Before being spotted, she releases her newborn in a butter box down the river’s stream. Through Mears’ carefully archaic, wandering, elaborate style of writing, she imbues the characters with a vernacular that never feels mannered. Romantic, sincere and passionate, there is a kind of innocence and force to this language; often with beauty and brutality intermixed. Through each flash of luck, or of dashing tragedy, Mears’ characters live through so much – so hopefully, yet so painfully. Foal’s Bread is like a clash of innocent sentiment and hard felt reality, made into something strange and unique.
Andrea Stigliano, UTS Library
Foal’s Bread is the winner of six awards, including the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction. Author Gillian Mears is a Bachelor of Arts graduate, who last year received the UTS Alumni Award for Excellence – Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
This review was first published in the UTS U: Magazine March 2013.