Who can resist the lure of a book about a Clydesdale horse named after the wife of a former prime minister? Certainly not me. As soon as I saw this on the CBCA Shortlist this year I knew that it would be one of the books that I would search out. I'm so glad that I did.
Mrs Whitlam is a lovely slip of a book, a mere 77 pages. Local Aboriginal girl Marnie Clark is horse crazy and dreams of having a horse of her own, but her father is out of work and her family can't afford it. When a girl from her school dies her grieving mother finds that her daughter's horse and riding things are too painful to see, too powerful a memory to keep, so she gives Mrs Margaret Whitlam to Marnie. Marnie and the horse form an immediate bond.
I pressed my face into Mrs Whitlma's neck, tears rolled down my cheeks. I was hoping they were for Vicki but really, I knew most of them were for me.Set in western Victoria Mrs Whitlam is a simple story, well written. Bruce Pascoe writes beautiful descriptive prose.
The track was firm but damp and Maggie's hooves made a rhythmic sound like someone whacking a hot water bootle with a stack wrapped in lamb's wool. I could hear it echo faintly off the trees on the other side of the river. It sounded like a hostly rider was keeping stride for stride with me on the other bank.This little book fits in a lot, it deals with small town racism both towards Marnie and her family, and also the local immigrant families. It also deals with notions of family, class and bitchy pony club girls. There is a gentle warmth to the book, and a lovely humour in the dialogue.
Bruce Pascoe was a new author to me. I'd seen his previous book Fog a Dox around a bit the past few years, but don't really know anything about it and haven't read it, and indeed I didn't actually put two and two together for a while. Bruce Pascoe was born in Melbourne and has Bunurong and Tasmanian heritage, he writes fiction and nonfiction, and has been a publisher and editor. I look forward to reading more of his work.