Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Simon’s sister Charlotte is missing. The lonely Fenland village the family recently moved to from London is odd, silent, and mysterious. Simon is epileptic and his seizures are increasing in severity, but when he is told of the local curse of the Naseby Horses, he is convinced it has something to do with Charlotte’s disappearance. Despite resistance from the villagers, the police, and his own family, Simon is determined to uncover the truth, and save his sister.
Under the oppressive Fenland skies and in the heat of a relentless June, Simon’s bond with Charlotte is fierce, all-consuming, and unbreakable; but can he find her? And does she even want to be found?
Drawing on philosophy, science, and the natural world, The Naseby Horses is a moving exploration of the bond between a brother and his sister; of love; and of the meaning of life itself.
The Naseby Horses is a haunting, dreamlike blend of slow-burning suspense, myth and the dawning horror of your only certainty disappearing without a trace.
Simon has just come round from a debilitating tonic-clonic (or grand-mal) seizure to find out that his twin sister, Charlotte, has already been missing for two days. She disappeared on a stormy night, after telling Simon something important, but he has no idea what happened to her or what she said to him – his seizure has stripped his memories and scrambled his ability to distinguish between memory, hallucination and reality. While everyone around him is treating him with a mixture of sympathy and suspicion, all Simon knows for certain is that he must save Charlotte… but from where, who, or what?
The reader is plunged straight into Simon’s distorted after-shock wobbly world on Day 3 of Charlotte’s disappearance, and we are left scrambling to catch up, as the gaps in what we are told perfectly mirror the frustration of the gaps in Simon’s thought processes around his sister’s whereabouts.
Dominic Brownlow paints a detailed and deeply atmospheric atmosphere of oppression, repression, paranoia and suspicion that feels claustrophobic, even as Simon roams the village and surrounding countryside as freely as the birds he observes. These dark feelings swirl unfocused around Simon, wherever he goes and whoever he speaks with, and combine with the long silences between snippets of dialogue, so that everything unsaid and unknown weighs heavily between the lines of the narrative. The writing style is poetic: packed with imagery and sensations which are sharply-defined and distinct, in direct contrast to the vaguely obscured plot of the present observations.
The relationship between the siblings, Simon and Charlotte, is at the heart of the novel, and the author explores is deftly and delicately, flitting through memories and touching on moments, with little expressed directly. There seem to be definite hints that Simon may be on the autistic spectrum in addition to his epilepsy, and this is highlighted in his interactions, especially with his loved ones. It is clear through his narrative perspective that he lacks the ability to read other people’s thoughts and feelings, or to explain his own, except through the language of bird facts and an obsessive documentation of the physical world around him.
While Simon’s epilepsy is confirmed directly and his autism only inferred, both conditions are handled sensitively and with what feels like resounding authenticity. Not only do we see through Simon’s eyes, hear through his ears and struggle with his disjointed though processes, but his palpable unreliability as an author, the lack of concrete information about the ‘case’, and the generalised mistrust of every other character in the narrative all blur together to give the reader an unsettling insight into the world of someone who cannot trust his own perceptions or memories either.
By the end of the story, it is no longer clear what is reality and what is hallucination and it doesn’t really matter to the story, as this is not a story about what happened to a missing girl. This is a story about what reality can even mean, when everyone perceives it differently, and a story about the deep connection between two siblings, that can cross time, space and the line between fact and fantasy.
Whatever this is, it feels real. It is no longer in the safe immunity of my mind. It’s out there in that field, where everything is clear and solid and comprehensible, where men and women are poking at the land with sticks, looking for my sister. My mouth droops. It tastes bitter and metallic. I widen my eyes and tilt my head as distances become undefined, as though in forced perspective, uncertain of exactly where they belong in this unfamiliar terrain. I don’t want her to be missing anymore. I don’t want her to be out there, cold and lonely and frightened. I want her to be safe, and as I think this, time separating itself imperceptibly from the now, I see through the radiant glare of Uncle Pete’s windscreen little bugs of rain crawling down the glass from the night Charlotte disappeared.
– Dominic Brownlow, The Naseby Horses
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