Seventeen-year-old Simon’s sister Charlotte is missing. The lonely Fenland village the family recently moved to from London is odd, silent, and mysterious. Simon is epileptic and his seizures are increasing in severity, but when he is told of the local curse of the Naseby Horses, he is convinced it has something to do with Charlotte’s disappearance. Despite resistance from the villagers, the police, and his own family, Simon is determined to uncover the truth, and save his sister.
Under the oppressive Fenland skies and in the heat of a relentless June, Simon’s bond with Charlotte is fierce, all-consuming, and unbreakable; but can he find her? And does she even want to be found?
Drawing on philosophy, science, and the natural world, The Naseby Horses is a moving exploration of the bond between a brother and his sister; of love; and of the meaning of life itself.
I was immediately drawn to the description of this book, and am very grateful to Emma at Damp Pebbles for offering me a spot on the blog tour, and to Louise Walters and the author for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
To put it simply, The Naseby Horses is unlike any other novel I have read. The plot itself, with its central mystery of what has happened to Charlotte, and the gradual uncovering of the curse folded into the history of the Fenland village, would sustain a conventional novel with ease, but Brownlow goes far beyond the remit of a ‘conventional’ story. Instead, the style of the book is dream-like, almost hallucinatory: timelines merge into each other, memories barge their way into the present, and the natural world seeps into human consciousness in a startling and beautiful way. The prose is surprising and lush, close to poetry, and gorgeously evocative:
“A long thin feather of white cloud hangs over the horizon. Caught in its slender edges are the faintest tones of dusk: pinks and creams and coppery greys that flay out like the tentacles of some enormous jellyfish caught beneath the skyline.”
The protagonist, Simon, is an absolutely fascinating character, and it feels like a privilege to be offered an insight into his unique way of seeing the world. His epilepsy seems to give him access to the edges of existence, to something rich and strange that, in Brownlow’s novel, cannot be dismissed as simply symptoms of an illness. I loved the glimpse into his mind, into the way he is transported instantly into past moments, time losing its linear structure and looping back and forth like a tangled ribbon:
“it’s beautiful the way the air sparkles and glitters like this, as though two worlds, two moments of time, neither of which I really belong to, have been laid on top of each other like sheets of ice.”
The themes in this book are huge: reality, time, human existence – Brownlow does not shy away from the big questions, though of course there are no easy answers. Those who like their novels tied up in a bow of narrative completion may not find much resolution here, but this did not concern me in the slightest; I was happy to be bathed in the stunning language of the book. I liked the way that pieces of the history of the area came to light, and the links with the village’s current inhabitants were interesting. The bond between Simon and his sister is beautifully described, and his inability to recall exactly what happened on the night she disappears adds a further layer of poignancy to the story. His relationship with his mother is particularly heartbreaking – I felt so much sympathy for Simon during their interactions.
The Naseby Horses is full of sensory detail and natural description that is thrillingly emotive: Simon describes his “demons” as “the dilated shadows of moths”, the looming corvids that appear as ominously as Hitchcock could have wished for are “black and jigsaw-shaped, like missing pieces of the day.” Simon’s puzzling out of the history of the curse, the relevance of the Naseby horses, and even the search for Charlotte all came second to me to the pure linguistic and intellectual beauty of this novel. It is a book that I did not so much read as experience, and I am very glad I had the opportunity to do so.
About Dominic Brownlow:
Dominic Brownlowlives near Peterborough with his two children. He lived in London and worked in the music industry as a manager before setting up his own independent label. He now enjoys life in the Fens and has an office that looks out over water. The Naseby Horses is his first novel. It was long listed for the Bath Novel Award 2016.
Louise Walters Books: https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/dominic-brownlow
Louise Walters Books: https://bit.ly/3a9QLqU
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2DztRgr
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3imRms1
Book Depository: https://bit.ly/3fFJfVJ
Published in paperback, hardcover and digital formats by Louise Walters Book on 24th August 2020