I don't quite know where to start and it's not often I say that.It's taken me about a week to recover enough to write this.
First up, I feel I need to seek complete absolution for never really liking horses that much and for ever linking them to tins of dog food. Now I'm having to stop myself flying out of the door every time a horse trots along the lane just to gaze at it and love it and then cry.
If you read this book prepare to shed a vale of tears.
Our Horses in Egypt is an unusual, less-is-more book and I had to concentrate hard because Rosalind Belben has a unique narrative style and the dialogue often doesn't quite seem to make sense. In the early chapters I often found myself reading it aloud to really grasp the meaning and then it dawned on me, this is pure dialogue, a conversation as you would really hear it. It's pared down and spare, often unfinished, the voicing of a seemingly random thought.
Here was a writer who wanted me to work.
Rosalind Belben a writer who is constantly challenging her reader to fill in the gaps and silences and make the connections for themselves.You most certainly do not get it all on a plate, the challenge of ambiguity and the potential for confusion all far more representative of real life.It is often several chapters on before one moment of confusion becomes a eureka one.
Just hold on to it in a state of unknowing and trust that it will sort out and it does.
I can't tell you how pleased I was the moment I understood about the Billy Harris in the drinking water.
Alongside the story of war widow Griselda Romney dragging daughter Amabel and Nanny off to Egypt to track down her old horse Philomena, is the story of Philomena herself. Philomena had been requisitioned for Allenby's 1916 desert campaign from the Romney country seat, where she was more used to hunting to hounds than charging the dervishes in the Western Desert.
Thankfully Rosalind Belbin doesn't offer a talking horse but somehow you know exactly what Philomena is seeing, thinking and experiencing without her being given an actual Black Beauty voice.That somehow wouldn't have done at all.I've had to read in very small chunks because the flavours here are so intense and concentrated it's almost too much to take in.
For a start there's the land itself, this is the Levant torn apart by the Great War but a land with a radiant beauty that often shines through at the most desperate moments.Rosalind Belbin is not daft, too much horse suffering too soon would have had even this non-horsey-but- now-warming-to -them person closing the book with a fit of the staggers.The accumulation is gradual and by the time you reach the height of battle you couldn't bear to leave Philomena's side for a minute.
Fortunately each chapter of equine derring-do interspersed with the often hilarious adventures of Griselda, four-year old Amabel and Nanny and of course out of the mouths of babes, Amabel tells it like it is with that childlike innocence and Rosalind Belbin nails it.
Likewise you stay alongside Griselda as the full horrors of the life of the horses in post-war Cairo are revealed and her search for Philomena becomes increasingly desperate, with it comes that complete understanding for those of us not quite so devoted to family Equidae.
In fact Rosalind Belben doesn't miss a beat right the way through Our Horses in Egypt and I was constantly marvelling at her plotting, her characters, the voices, the settings. Everything fitting together to perfection and a pure mastery of words.Nothing to excess, those moments when I had to stop and think and work it out for myself became the norm, slowed me down and made me think very hard about the book.When you reach the final page you absolutely have to turn, sniffing and snivelling, back to the beginning and re-read at least the first few chapters.
I could go on and on but I won't because Rosalind Belben doesn't.
Right now, this very minute, I am reminded of another author who writes like this,