Review: Patricia Leitch

Patricia Leitch: For Love of a Horse & A Devil to Ride
Catnip, 2010

The Jinny books have been odd ones to review. It's the first time that I've had to take a book I read as a teenager, and look at it from a critical, adult point of view. I wasn't at all sure how the process was going to end up. I liked the Jinny books I'd read as a teenager - actually only these two, the first of which, For Love of a Horse, came out when I was 14. After the second one, I decided I was Too Old for pony books (not old enough to give them away - sister and I packed them all up and kept them) and so didn't read any of the rest of the series until I was in my 30s.

Jinny, when I read her first, was a bit too close for comfort. Sensible, funny Jill was who I wanted to be, winning prizes and having copable-with adventures. Jinny was so emotional - pigheaded, awkward and just plain wrong at times. I didn't, at the age of 14, think the way that Jinny actually gets Shantih was a tad unbelievable, and that was something that struck me this time round. Jinny Manders and her family are moving from urban Stopton to Finmory, in the Highlands of Scotland. On the way, they visit a circus, where Shantih is appearing as Yasmin, the wild Arabian mare. She is badly treated, and from the moment Jinny sees her, she is obsessed by the mare. Jinny and her family witness a road accident, in which the circus is involved, and Jinny manages to free Shantih from the wreckage. She gallops off into the moors, and is sold off by the ringmaster to a local farmer, the Manders' neighbour.

Jinny is determined to find the mare for herself. She calls her Shantih, but Shantih attaches herself to Mr Mackenzie's herd of Shetlands, who run on the moors, and Jinny cannot get near her. It takes almost complete disaster for Shantih before Jinny succeeds.

Plot quibbles apart, I suppose I am struck most, on re-reading, by how much I identify with Jinny now. When I was Jinny's age, I didn't want to be her. I was at the age when being the one who was different was something I desperately didn't want. Jill fitted in. Why couldn't I be Jill? Jinny accepts she's the way she is in a way that's taken me decades to do. It's Patricia Leitch's genius, I think, in portraying a teenage girl with such accuracy and passion. Although there are many, many pony books which have heroines who love ponies, there are few which have the great galloping passion that Enid Bagnold gave Velvet Brown in National Velvet, and which Patricia Leitch gave Jinny. Enid Bagnold wrote this about Velvet:

“I tell myself stories about horses,” she went on, desperately fishing at her shy desires. “Then I can dream about them. Now I dream about them every night. I want to be a famous rider, I should like to carry despatches, I should like to get a first at Olympia, I should like to ride in a great race, I should like to have so many horses that I could walk down between the two rows of loose boxes and ride what I chose. I would have them all under fifteen hands, I like chestnuts best, but bays are lovely too, but I don’t like blacks.”

And couldn't that be Jinny? The first book's misnamed really: it's not just love Jinny has for Shantih, it's passion. Nothing stands in its way; not Jinny's family, and certainly not her safety.

I suppose that to love ponies is acceptable: lots of girls do it and it's seen, rather indulgently, as a phase they go through before they move on to boys. What a lot of people don't realise, or would prefer not to see, is that teenage emotions run very deep indeed. Passion is something that's rather different to the quieter shores of love, and that's why I think Jinny can be uncomfortable reading. Passion isn't comfortable.

Now I'm older, I can absolutely appreciate Jinny. She was never going to take life quietly, and certainly never going to go meekly off and do a secretarial course, like Jill. Re-reading these first two stories has been an experience. I hope sales mean that Catnip republish the whole series.

These new editions are, I think, the most attractive of the Jinny editions. They're trade paperbacks, and therefore larger than the originals, and are printed on decent paper, so should last rather better than the originals. The horse on the cover is owned by Karen Budkiewicz, who took the photographs for these new editions. You can see more of Karen's work here, and some mock ups of covers on this post on my forum. "Do they want to use my horse for the cover?" she said. Well, yes, they did.


Val said…
Lovely review ..have to read them for myself now
haffyfan said…
Excellent review Jane.

Would class myself as ''not a Jinny fan' but, having not read them myself since early teens, I'm tempted to now have a reread and see if they grow on me at all!
Shantih said…
I love these new versions, the size of the book and type is much easier to read (that could just be my age though!). And what joy Ms Leitch's writing is, with vivid descriptions, accurate character portraits. Unlike you Jane, I wanted to be Jinny when I was a teenager, perhaps because I was boring and un-rebellious! I do hope these books are a success, as I think they are true pony stories amongst today's pink and magic storylines!
Jane Badger said…
Give them a go Haffy - I'd love to know what you make of them now!

Shantih, I do agree about the style of the new versions. Cross fingers they sell by the bucket load.

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