The Horseman by Tim Pears

Tim Pears’ The Horseman is the first in a trilogy of novels set in England’s West Country in the early 20th century. The final book, The Redeemed, was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in 2020 and as some of you will know, working through the shortlists for that particular prize is one of my personal reading projects. As I don’t like to start a trilogy or series at the end, I decided to begin with The Horseman in the hope that I would like it enough to want to continue.

Starting in January 1911 and finishing in June 1912, the novel follows the daily life of young Leo Sercombe, the son of a carter who works on the estate of Lord Prideaux on the Devon-Somerset border. Leo has little interest in attending school, preferring to help his family with their work on the farm – and here he has gained a different kind of education: a knowledge of horses and an affinity with nature. Then one day, Leo meets Charlotte, Lord Prideaux’s daughter, and a friendship begins to form based on their shared love of horses.

There’s no doubt that The Horseman is a beautifully written novel, but I’m sorry to have to say that I didn’t enjoy it very much. I’m not necessarily the sort of reader who needs a very strong plot with lots of action on every page, but I do need at least a little bit of plot and this book didn’t seem to have any at all – just one description after another of various farming tasks. As the months go by and the seasons change we are given detailed accounts of grooming horses, gathering hay, ploughing fields, collecting eggs and anything else you can think of that takes place on a large country estate. I suppose it’s not quite true to say that absolutely nothing happens in the novel, because Leo is learning and growing all the time, but because there’s almost no conflict or drama in his life – until right at the very end of the book – I found it difficult to connect with him in any way.

Other reviews of this book are overwhelmingly positive and I can see why, as it’s a lovely, gentle portrayal of a rural community in a time gone forever; unfortunately, it just wasn’t the right book for me. This now leaves me with a dilemma as I had been expecting to go on to read the rest of the trilogy for my Walter Scott Prize project. Am I likely to enjoy the other two books any more than this one? I suspect not, so I might have to leave the 2020 shortlist incomplete.

Book 23/50 read for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

5 thoughts on “The Horseman by Tim Pears

  1. Sandra says:

    Helen, I loved this book – for all the reasons that it didn’t work for you. You could probably skip the middle book without losing much of the story arc. More happens in the final book, and Leo is away at sea for a lot of the time, but essentially the themes, the pace and the writing style remain the same. Sorry this series wasn’t for you!

    • Helen says:

      I’m sorry I wasn’t able to love this book, but I did think the writing was beautiful. I haven’t ruled out trying the final book at some point in the future as it does sound a bit more appealing to me than this one.

  2. whatmeread says:

    You’re doing exactly what I did, although I read all three of these sometime last fall. Just haven’t posted my reviews yet. I just looked back at my review because I couldn’t remember what I thought about it, and it says “I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book.” Overall, about the entire series, I found his style too detached and his interest in the details of work too minute.

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