Saturday, January 23, 2010

Zara (1970)

As a possible guilty look over the shoulder regarding my shameless obsession with the glory side of racing in recent weeks, an English book which regards horse racing with a more jaundiced eye.


Joyce Stranger

1970, Harvill Press (UK), The Viking Press (US)

Richard Proud clucked to her as she trotted towards them, and she came to him, treading delicately on deceptively fragile hooves, and dropped her muzzle to his palm, breathing warmly, and huffed to him. He was lost.

The beautiful filly Zara changes hands for the first time for a reason that becomes one of the focal points of the book - the vast costs and fickle sucess of horse racing. New owner Richard Proud brings her home to a farm dominated by unease, where his wife Stella has changed into an angry, dangerously unstable woman. All she seems to care about is a social life Richard can't provide, scorning their teenage daughter Sue as plain and boring. Richard and Sue frequently take refuge in the warm company of their cook and farm manager, leaving the chilly main house to Stella. Also new to the farm is Sam, a poor teenager with a knack for riding, and Chris, a middle-class teen getting over a bout of polio. Zara's beauty and gentleness enthralls them all, but bad luck seems to plague the Proud farm after her purchase, culminating in a terrifying blizzard.

While most of the action comes through the perspectives of Richard Proud, Sam and a few other male characters, the twin centers of action are female: the filly Zara and the woman Stella. Zara is adored for both her beauty and her gentleness. Stella, on the other hand, is described as beautiful but harsh, so vicious and unfeeling toward her family that only the newcomer Sam sees her beauty anymore. When the book reveals Stella's thoughts, she returns again and again to pain, to a pain that drives her in a fury of action and anger, and it's no surprise when we discover her behavior has a physical cause. It does come as a complete surprise to her husband, who's not winning any prizes as most alert husband.

The horsemen in the book are shown to be very caring of their animals, or as caring as they can be while trying to break even or make a profit.

Horses were not fully grown until four, and too many of them, foaling when young, or raced too often when young, ended up ruined for life..

The decision is made to race Zara in a steeplechase, and her race ends on a bittersweet note, as they all realize the toll taken by the race.

The mare that had followed them home lay stretched on the ground. She would never race again.... "Burst her heart, quite literally."

About the Author

Joyce Muriel Wilson died in 2007. Her website was, and can sometimes be viewed via the Internet Archive's waybackmachine.

Books by Author - Joyce Stranger wrote a lot of books, mostly about animals. Other horse book include:

Breed Of Giants (1966)

Khazan: The Horse That Came Out of The Sea (1977)

Paddy Joe And Thompkin's Folly (1979)

The January Queen (1979)

Wild Ponies (1976)

The Stallion (1981)

No More Horses (1982)

Hound Of Darkness (1983)

Stranger Than Fiction (1984)

The Hounds Of Hades (1985)

Midnight Magic (1991)

Georgie's Secret


FantasticFiction, summary with a far more attractive cover

Google shopping, with another cover

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