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Horse Heaven

by Jane Smiley; Penguin Books. RRP $29.95. Paperback.

Jane Smiley's latest "American" novel is a breath of fresh air. Don't start out expecting a Dick Francis or John Francome clone. There's no death and destruction, just a tale woven around a bunch of horses - all intended to be winners but some destined for different paths.

If you've ever wondered just what is going on in a horse's head, what they're thinking, and why, then Horse Heaven has more than a few insights.

Set in racing American circles, Horse Heaven is a faithful glimpse into the lives of everyone involved in the industry -- crooked vets, breeders gambling on an unproven stallion, trainers who have to win, owners who know little but have the money to dabble ... right down the the track riders and the people who really care about the horses.

But most interesting are the parts told from the points of view of the horses.

There's a horse with a distinguished past who is found starving in a paddock with a herd of other horses. He's rescued, thanks to the detective work and the enthusiasm of a small girl, and finds his way back to the track, but in a different role that he'd expected.

And the confusing world of claiming -- a class of race not run in New Zealand -- is also explored, with the fate of one horse, a gritty, talented, but quirky individual, making you hope against hope each successive owner will appreciate the horse for all his talents.

It's not all happy endings, and the plot does get a little confusing in its speedy jumps between characters and sub-plots, but this will keep the horsey reader enthralled. My only complaint would be that Horse Heaven ended too abruptly for my liking, but all in all a great read for the equine fanatic.

Jane Smiley -- an interview with Christopher Moore



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