Mar 16, 2011

Our Horses in Egypt

by Rosalind Belben

I thought for a long time that I wanted to read this book. I've had it on my TBR since I saw it reviewed three years ago on A Work in Progress! More recently, when Gavin at Page 247 read and wrote about it, I mentioned I'd been wanting to read it but my library doesn't have any copies. So he very kindly sent me his.

I was so happy to get my hands on this book, and then so frustrated and dismayed when I discovered I didn't like it. The premise really appealed to me. The story is about an woman who travels to Egypt searching for her horse. Thousands of horses were taken from the English countryside for the Army's use in World War I. At the end of the war, the surviving horses meet two fates: those that were too injured or broken-down were destroyed. Many more were sold in Egypt for local use. Very few made it home again. The story of Our Horses in Egypt is told from two points of view; it switches back and forth between the mare Philomena's wartime experiences and the travels of her former owner Griselda, who drags her daughter and Nanny along with her in the search throughout Egypt.

My problem was with the writing style; it's very clipped and sparse, and uses a lot of terminology I'm totally unfamiliar with- especially military terms and words in other languages- half the time I didn't even know what language it was. The setting was also new to me- so the mention of places and events didn't really help me get a grasp on things. The descriptions were just not enough to give me get a sense of place without already having some background knowledge of it. Much of the story is told in dialogue without really describing what people are doing or thinking, which is also hard for me to follow. Events are mentioned in small half-sentences and then it moves on to the next thing. I found it all very hard to take in. I did get a vivid picture of all the horrific things the animals suffered both as warhorses in the heat of battle as as beasts of burden in Egypt's streets. Hunger, thirst, sores, biting insects, wounds, beatings, etc. The military tactics and such were just a blur to me, as the myriad of people mentioned by name and little else, who moved in and out of scenes with little to introduce them. I hardly knew what was going on most of the time, or who I was reading about when it wasn't Griselda or Philomena herself.

I was about ready to toss the book aside at eighty pages but then went back and read all these other reviews, every single one glowing and advising to stick it out despite the odd writing style, so I did. I made myself finish. I wanted to get the sense of greatness from this book. But it just didn't work out for me. And I feel very sorry for that, I did want to love it so. Please take a look at some of the other reviews linked to in this post and below. I feel like I cannot really give this book justice, and there's a lot of you out there who might appreciate what I failed to!

Rating: 2/5 ........ 304 pages

more opinions at:
Pages Turned
Dovegreyreader Scribbles
Book World
Evening all afternoon
what we have here is a failure to communicate

5 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Don't you just hate it when a book you want to love falls flat for you? Sorry this one didn't work out for you.

Caspette said...

If you can you might want to get your hands on The Australian Light Horse by ROland Perry. It is about a unique force formed during the Boer War and reformed for WWI. The fought mostly in Egypt/Middle East. There is a movie called The Light Horsemen somewhere not sure how available it is outside Australia.

Very fascinating topic.

Here is a link for you http://shop.abc.net.au/browse/product.asp?productid=552533

Shame your book did not live up to your expectations.

Danielle said...

It was not an easy book to read and I generally don't do well with experimental fiction like this. I think what saved me was several other bloggers were reading it at the time so I had a little help in understanding what was going on. You were good to stick with it--I tend to set those sorts of books aside when it is not only a challenge but not one I am enjoying very much. It was interesting story about the horses though-I had no idea about them and what happened to them during and after the war!

C.B. James said...

It is an interesting topic. It's a bit shameful that the horses were just left in Egypt, and other parts of the world I presume, instead of brought home. I know that that brining then home would have been difficult, but far from impossible.

The same thing happened to bomb sniffing dogs used in the Vietnam war. There's a very readable book about this, written for young readers, called Cracker!

Jenny said...

Shame it wasn't better for you! Even with all the glowing reviews, I haven't been sure if I should read this one. Black Beauty was already pretty hard for me to read (as I recall), with all the animal cruelty, and this sounds worse. So it's good to hear that it's not unanimously beloved.