Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The One Dollar Horse revisited

WARNING: Contains spoilers!

It's been a very long while since I read a book which left me so disquieted, so much so that I've been thinking about it all weekend, and wondering why on earth the book for me didn't quite gel.  I think light has finally dawned.  It's the fairy godmother character, Mrs Smith, who bothers me; or to pin it down a bit, her position as fairy godmother and enabler of the heroine's dreams.

I find the beginning and the end of the book credible; the gritty reality of East London at the beginning and the heroine's struggle to even ride, let alone have a horse, and odd though it might seem, the Badminton triumph at the end. Some people just are that good.  And it is possible for people who come from nothing to succeed in a world notorious for needing wads of cash to do so.

Mrs Smith is someone the heroine already knows; she goes to tea with her regularly. Mrs Smith had a horsy background herself, but lost her money through a disastrous marriage. She sees the ability and promise of success in Casey, and helps her by training her and giving her support. That I can entirely see.

What I don't see is the fact that it is Mrs Smith who turns out to be Casey's mystery benefactor - the one whose sponsorship takes her onto that other plane. In a novel which preaches hard graft, it seems odd that success depends on a wave of a magic wand; it's just a bit too much of a lottery win, an X factor unlikeliness. To me it says that yes, you can achieve the fairytale, but your hard work and talent will not be enough without that staggeringly unlikely stroke of good fortune.

I don't know. Am I being too puritanical about this? I wanted the heroine to succeed but in a way which would give hope to people who want to ride, not one which says you need to be lucky in your friends.  I suppose the author gave herself a very short time frame: if your heroine is going to be the youngest Badminton winner ever, a more realistic, though lengthy, slog, round as a groom and rider in an eventing stable as she works her way up just isn't going to happen.

I'm puzzled still by why I personally feel so let down by this. I'm not a teenager, so I don't know if the book's readers are going to think well, this is all very well, but I know no Mrs Smith is going to happen for me, so really this horse business is all a dream, isn't it? Or what? How seriously will they take it?  It's something I want, for horses to be more accessible (see the Ebony Horse Club in Brixton, and the Emile Faurie Foundation).  When I read in my teenage years K M Peyton's Fly-by-Night, in which Ruth buys an unbroken pony and has a desperate struggle to keep him, I identified with Ruth (although I came from a solid middle class background, I knew there was no way I would ever have a pony) and her fight. What Ruth did I could see myself doing.  Will readers of The One Dollar Horse see a way to achieve their dreams, or just a fairytale?

I must stop thinking about this, I really must.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like Daddy Longlegs with horses.

IMHO, it's the contrast that is nagging you. All fairytale or all grit would have been fine. Switching mid-stream leaves the reader feeling annoyed & cheated, esp if the writing is good. You get sucked in & you want to like it but can't.

Katherine Walcott (Rodney's Saga)

madwippitt said...

I'm with you on this one. I remember the reality of Fly-by-Night too as I was going through a similar process with a borrowed pony myself. It was real but never boring. The same with Caroline Akrill's Silver Bridle - no fairy tale ending there for the horse. Gillian Baxter gave me a pretty good idea of what I'd be letting myself in for as a riding teacher. And Monica Edwards - well, I could go on forever. A story can be absolutely gripping without becoming improbable. I hate improbable. It's cheating.

Jane Badger said...

You're right Katherine. I do want to like the book and am actually quite cross with myself for being unable to get over the improbability gap.

Madwippit, I agree. The book is the first in a three book series, so I do wonder where Casey is going after winning Badminton before being out of her teens.

Anonymous said...

I think it's nothing more than the unpleasant truth that just getting physically near a horse usually requires a fairy godmother character for kids who live below the "What lessons would you like to do this summer, Emily?" level. To compete in even low levels of horse sports ups the ante, and then again as you move into elite competition. So I wouldn't fault the author for that. I would fault the author if they'd maintained a steady "see, kids, you can do unlikely things if you have Heart and Believe!" and then scurried into the fairy godmother scenario at the 11th hour. That's just barely tolerable in stories about middle class and working class kids; it borders on the obscene when directed at kids living in poverty.

Jane Badger said...

I agree. I don't think the author has fallen entirely into the "work hard and believe and all will be yours thing." I don't though think the balance between fairytale and reality is quite right. What I want to do is read it again to see if I still agree with myself.

Anonymous said...

I interpreted Mrs Smith's character rather differently. Far from being a wealthy fairy godmother figure she lives incredibly modestly, and resorts to selling a precious family painting to help provide some funds. Mrs Smith only steps in when Casey is at her lowest ebb and has proved herself with months of commitment and hard graft. If anything, Mrs Smith being the mystery benefactor will add to the pressure on Casey as she won't be able to bestow endless sums of money on her in the way a truly wealthy sponsor might.

Jane Badger said...

I see your point: and I think you're right when you say that Mrs Smith's decision increases the pressure on Casey. However, Mrs Smith is atypical of the society in which she lives, most of whom do not have a family painting they can sell. Perhaps I look at this from the rather jaundiced point of view by someone struggling in a very difficult economy. However much we might wish it, no one is going to bail us out.