If there's one thing I like it's a jolly good 'well I'll be jiggered' moment in a book.
It can be about anything but to be jolly good it's got to be previously unknown, obvious to everyone else except me and therefore quite startling in its discovery. Sufficiently startling in fact to cause me to exclaim and pronounce to Bookhound..'did you know that...' with the emphasis on the 'you'.
So I went and asked him and his reply after a lengthy silence was, 'not until now', so that's two of us educated on the subject of equine digestion.
How on earth have we both struggled through life, all these years, not knowing that horses can't vomit or belch?
Did you know that or is it just us?
It's obvious now I know and even more obvious when you check out the anatomy, way too far to travel back up once it's gone down. So that explains all this hoo-hah when horses eat something they shouldn't or get colic, I thought it was just horsey people being a bit obsessively pernickety, all that walking round and things.
My grateful thanks to Canadian author Gil Adamson for filling this glaring gap in our knowledge, though I think it may be too late to put it to any use now.
Getting hold of a copy of Gil's first novel The Outlander published by Anansi Press has proved almost as much of a challenge as 'murderess, outlaw and fallen daughter' Mary Boulton's flight across the wilds of Alberta in the early 1900's.
House of Anansi Press are top of my list for off the beaten track Canadian writing, the books are usually nicely produced paperbacks, good quality paper secured in safe bindings and they weigh in heavy for postage to the UK.
Now typically of course I note that The Outlander is available here, but it wasn't when I was yearning for it and so when I had the chance to release a picture from this blog to a Canadian TV company I suggested this book as payment and eventually it arrived.
It's been worth the wait and I haven't been disappointed. Neither was Michael Ondaatje
'Full of verve, beautifully written, and with all the panache of a great adventure'
nor Ann Patchett,
'Deserves to be read twice, first as a page-turner of the highest order, and then a second time, slowly, to savour the marvel of the writing.'
How can I possibly disagree with two writers whose work I have enjoyed immensely this year?
The Outlander felt like a book of two distinct halves and one you absolutely just have to stick with through some fairly horrendous moments of extreme endurance as nineteen year old Mary flees from her cabin home where she has left her husband John murdered by her own hand and with his brothers on her trail for justice. The journeying and the hardshp is relentless but the slow seepage of back story is so cleverly woven in, just little snippets and reflections gathering momentum right through the book, until eventually you realise you have a page-turner on your hands.
Mary, known as the widow throughout, remained a remote and distant character for a good deal of the book for me so it was easy to feel one-step removed from the hardships, but to my utter amazement and don't ask me when it happened there was a subtle mood change somewhere along the way. The back story worked its magic and I was begging and pleading with Gil Adamson on Mary's behalf as the tense gallop to the end left me in the same mood as Ann Patchett and ready to read again slowly. Gil certainly wrote with the confidence to hold this reader in the palm of her hand and it was almost a 'bath overflowed' episode here as I just had to turn the final page.
Then I hardly slept a wink for thinking about it all.
I took it along to Endsleigh Salon last night because our theme was First Novels. The selection was fascinating and the discussion far-ranging as always and I'll tell you more soon.My resume of The Outlander and poor Mary's feet cut to ribbons quite overshadowed the hobbling salonista who had run up fell and down dale in the Lake District last weekend, pshaw we said, no skin? Huge blisters?
So what, you should just try the Canadian backwoods.
My only mini-Outlander qualm is that too much relentless and extreme suffering in the first half may deter some readers from getting onto the brilliance of the second-half of this book. I know it's all part of the intentional build-up but it does occasionally feel endless however trust me it isn't. The reward from hacking your way through the forest and nursing your bleeding hands and feet, as well as stitching your skirt up to make trousers and eating stewed porcupine will all be well worth the huge sacrifice of the odd chewed fingernail as you too let the bath overflow because you absolutely have to turn the final page.
PS Talking of Endsleigh Salon don't miss Alex Polizzi, the dynamic and forward-thinking owner of Hotel Endsleigh who kindly agreed to our group meeting there for free each month, in her forthcoming TV series The Hotel Inspector.
Thursday July 10th 9pm Channel Five. Bound to be some nice shots of Endsleigh in there somewhere.