Despite having a very traditional literary education (if you want me to be pretentious my favourites include Milan Kundera, Hardy, the Russian greats, Hemingway and Gabriel Garcia Marquez) I’m a sucker for a trashy novel. When you’ve been up since 5.30am, done a full day at work with horses to ride before and after, and even squeezed in a run and a dog walk, sometimes all you can manage of an evening is to collapse on the sofa with a glass of something cold, dry and white and a novel promising horses, competition, scandal and sex.
Seeing as I’m kind of anonymous on here I’ll admit to enjoying the odd Jilly Cooper (my mother would be horrified!). Anything set in the horse world immediately appeals and a novel set against the backdrop of my favourite sport? Bliss!
The first eventing-based book I became aware of was The Inheritance by Nina Bell. Although it trotted out a few cliches (the disastrously overhorsed teenager, the strong silent empathetic horseman) the book was set in a training centre which reminded me of Waterstock, the story was plausible and the details, if not perfect, then at least were not annoyingly and overtly wrong.
After that I read Fiona Walker’s Kiss and Tell (possibly in contention for the ‘worst title ever’ award). A quick poll of my friends has revealed split opinions over this book and although there was more sex than in The Inheritance (quite a lot more, actually…) I found it a really good read and I had a definite suspicion that some of the characters were based on some of eventing’s real-life movers and shakers. Again, on the trashy side, but perfect for a quiet night in on the sofa.
And so this brings me to the point of this article. In this month’s Eventing magazine there’s an article about horsey novelists, the bulk of which is features Harriet Kent who has just published ‘A Stable Life’, a book which purports to base sex, corruption and intrigue around the world of eventing. I’m afraid to say that in the small pond of eventing novels this one is very much a bottom feeder. The author claims to have been to Blenheim to do her research but her knowledge of eventing is woefully poor. She schedules a trot-up on XC morning, her heroine incurs 4 faults for a XC refusal (and finishes the course with 2 time faults, even with a refusal) and apparently it is possible to qualify two horses for the famous 3* at a dressage show.
Nit-picking (and they are pretty big nits) apart I found the plot unnecessarily convoluted (and this coming from a girl who enjoys Tolstoy!). It was almost impossible to follow all the overly-contrived twists and turns. The characters (except for Tag, the Jack Russell) were pretty two-dimensional and there were some whopping loose ends which were never tied up, to the point where I turned over the last page expecting another chapter.
In summary – it’s a small and select genre, but I don’t think this novel can add anything to it. A shame. The eventing world is crying out for some decent, well-researched fiction. Any volunteers?