The Mare by Mary Gaitskill
Female sexuality, submission and domination have long been themes of Mary Gaitskill’s work, said Rebecca Abrams in the FT. Her new novel adds “racial inequality and horse whispering” into the mix. Velvet, an 11-year-old Dominican girl from Brooklyn, goes to stay one summer with Ginger and Paul, a middle-aged couple, in upstate New York. (She’s sent by a charity that arranges vacations for inner-city kids.) At their “idyllic” home, she develops a love of riding, bonding with a mare from a nearby stables – and the freedom she experiences contrasts with the “extreme harshness” of her home life. A subtle novel that avoids descending into whimsy, The Mare is “beautiful” and “dreamlike”.
Gaitskill’s skill at inhabiting her characters stops this tale “toppling over into fable”, said Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in The Times. In Velvet, she “brilliantly captures a child’s mix of innocence and insight”. The Mare is about “good intentions being defeated by adverse circumstances”, said Jane Shilling in the London Evening Standard. It’s “touching” and enjoyable, even if it lacks the “pitiless edge” of great fiction.