Review: Jane Smiley - Champion Horse

Champion Horse is the fourth in the Abby Lovitt series, set in 1960s America. Abby’s father buys horses, and sells them after Abby’s schooled them. Abby herself has changed her view of this over the series. It’s been difficult for her, falling for horses who are then sold, but she does now have her own horse.

I’ve enjoyed the other books in the series; mainly for their unhurried pace and their careful portraits of the horses Abby rides. This book I found much more of a slow burn. Abby is a remote character, an observer rather than one who instigates anything, and for the first half of this book she’s observing to such an extent she rather lost me. I longed for the book to if not catch fire, at least to do something that would encourage me to enter Abby’s world because I cared about her and what she was doing. Fortunately, half way through, things pick up.

The book opens with Abby riding her horse, Blue, in shows, and it is not going well at all. Abby takes Blue to a clinic run by an ex-Olympian, and that doesn’t go well either. The trainer suggests Abby gives Blue a hit with the stick to focus his mind, but as Blue’s already nervous, that tactic doesn’t work. The trainer’s tactics are no better suited to the human participants either: star rider Sophia, who bought Black George from Abby earlier in the series, is reduced to tears, and walks out. She doesn’t get back on again, and Abby is offered the ride on Sophia’s other horse, Pie in the Sky.

Abby gets on well with him, but feels that he could be even better if he’s encouraged to free jump and play, as she’s seen a family called the Carmichaels do. The description of exactly how this all takes place is involving, and as Abby’s interest levels raised, so did mine. Abby is still very much the passive person she always was, but this book does see her start to make her own decisions and drive the plot along. It’s difficult to write a passive character and make the reader care about what happens to her; but the resolution of Abby’s problems sets the next book up with new relationships for Abby, and also the prospect of tension and grief if her brother Danny’s drafted for Vietnam.

There’s still enough in this book to make me look forward to the next volume, but I’m hoping that Abby carries on at least being semi-engaged with the world around her. It would be a shame if this series withered through the reader failing to care enough to reach out and make the effort to enter Abby’s world.

~  0  ~

Jane Smiley – Champion Horse
Faber, 2013, £6.99
Orginally published as Pie in the Sky, Alfred Knopf, 2012
Age of main character: 13/14

Jane Smiley’s website
Jane Smiley on my website


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