NBTM & #Giveaway: horse/man by Julia Merritt

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What happens when your entire identity revolves around a way of life that is becoming obsolete?

In the 1920s, as Canada progresses through the Industrial Revolution, horses are still the rural engines of survival. As a child Adam lives this reality on his family's farm in the Ottawa Valley, planning to take over one day and have a family of his own. When his parents die during the Great Depression, nineteen-year-old Adam is disinherited in favour of his brother and is forced to move to the city to find work. Without a formal education his choices are few, yet he finds a place to use his horsemanship skills in the dwindling forces of the Canadian cavalry based near Montreal. There he finds pride in being a mounted soldier, and friendship with his fellow dragoons. But the cavalry units are mechanized by the beginning of World War Two, and when Adam is sent to Europe, he must abandon his equine partners for trucks and tanks. In the catastrophic experience of war, he will lose everything once again.

Broken in body and spirit, he returns to Canada where he must confront the question of survival in a world that doesn't seem to have a place for an injured soldier. Full of poetic reflections on what it means to work with horses, horse/man is a powerful story about a man searching for dignity and connection in the face of a rapidly shifting world.

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“You know,” Tom carried on, “you may want to start considering one for yourself.”

“Mmm,” said Ciaran, wary.

Tom shook his head. “They’re the way of the future, I’m telling you. Gonna save you farmers reams of work.”

Ciaran’s face went blank. “We’ll see,” was all he said. He looked at the floor for a moment, then to the back of the shop where Tom’s assistant was gathering the order. Tom uncrossed his arms, shifting to pull his pencil from behind his ear and move it over the ledger.

On the way home, Adam sat in the wagon’s front seat and rolled the image of the car in his mind, trying to remember the details. He’d seen cars advertised in catalogues, one of those fantastical advancements that people in the Ottawa Valley weren’t wealthy enough to afford. The idea of climbing into a car was far removed from hitching a horse to a wagon. Who owned it? Why did that person need it? Adam thought maybe his father might know, but Ciaran’s silence was always forbidding, and he wasn’t brave enough to break it. He recalled the car’s colour as so deeply black it was unnatural compared to even the blackest of horses, whose coats were sunburnt in the summer and covered with dust in the winter. And when it had passed, the engine sound had drowned out all others.

What’s your favourite rainy day movie?

For a real rainy day movie, someone who likes history and romance can’t do better than the BBC’s North and South miniseries with Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage (2004). I used to think that Pride and Prejudice would have been the best candidate for this, but in recent years the balance has tipped in North and South’s favour! It may perhaps have something to do with the similar sorts of themes that are found in my own novel, which I’ve been living and breathing for the past decade…

Class features prominently in this story: set in the north of England during the Industrial Revolution, it’s less a comedy of manners than a serious struggle of life and death. The heroine’s family has lost its income, and the hero is struggling to run a successful business in the tumultuous cotton industry. The romantic plot is laid over this struggle, and the clashes between class, business, and personal misfortune make the road to love rather bumpy.

Of course, because the story is set at the end of the 1800s, the dialogue and mannerisms are so restrained that at face value it is hard to see much romantic tension in the story. But the actors are so expressive with tiny expressions and their posture that it brings intensity to the story, and makes the inner lives of the characters as important as any of the external action.

This also makes the re-watches extremely worthwhile; there’s an element of novelty there, as the viewer can find new depths to the performances and the subtext of the dialogue. Highly recommended as a gentle yet powerful love story.

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Julia Merritt has been captivated by horses ever since she could see out of the car window. Then she grew up and became a public library CEO and certified animal bodyworker. She lives in Ontario, Canada, with her thoroughbred horses and smooth collie dogs. This is her first novel.

Connect with Julia Merritt

WEBSITE http://www.juliamerritt.ca/

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/firehorseperformancebodywork

INSTAGRAM https://www.instagram.com/j.a.merritt/

TIKTOK https://www.tiktok.com/@j.a.merritt

Tour hosted by: Goddess Fish Promotions