It is a racy Victorian swagman’s tale, with loads of interesting background material. Each chapter is headed with an extract from a real Victorian book or newspaper, at least I think they are real – some or all may be faux-genuine, but they have a ring of truth.
The anti-hero, Pardew, is a veritable beast! But cunning too, though not likeable – lock up your jewels and your daughters! There is another equally unpleasant piece of work, Rebecca Gresham, who is socially superior to Pardew, and married herself to an odd character called Happerton. Captain Raff is another piece of work altogether. There is even a carter called Jorkins! In fact the whole book is full of odd people, but the hero is the horse Tiberius. “…he was very lithe and slim, with perhaps a touch of the Arab that distinguishes the very greatest ornaments of the turf…” When we first hear of him he belongs to Mr Davenant, Happerton wants to have him by fair means or foul – and thereby hangs the tale. It is blackly humorous, and between the gaps there is a truly beautiful romance.
All the events are leading up to the race at Epsom, and at this point the book becomes electrifying. The detail and description of all our characters getting to The Race, the noise, bustle and sweat of it, the betting and tingling excitement of Derby Day is brilliant.
This is a book about horses and the business of horses – betting, owning, winning and losing. A great stew of different people, all after money by any means: over or under the counter.
If you loved Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven – you will like this.