While the bare bones of the plot are evocative of Hardy, The Horseman is a novel in which plot is little more than a skeletal structure that allows Tim Pears to flesh out a vibrant, vividly detailed Devon. Leo, our guide, has a gift for observation, and is a rudimentary philosopher to boot. Thus, when he watches a hare approach him across a field, Leo is drawn to the conclusion that, “each species of animal had its own peculiarities of vision. This world we surveyed was not as it was but as it was seen, in many different guises.”... Seeded with deliciously archaic fragments of language (“dawcoc”, “zart”, “guddled”, “gatfer”), The Horseman is itself an exhilarating vision, a bittersweet elegy for the innocent certainties of an agrarian world before the industrialised horrors of the 20th century come crashing down.
Tim Pears’ new novel, the first in a trilogy, is a slow read. Not because it lacks suspense, but because the pleasure of it lies in taking in the language and the setting – the West Country, in 1911 and 1912 – and in reading it like a long poem, with each chapter a stanza... As a protagonist, Leo is worth observing, but he is not especially sympathetic. Miss Charlotte is just about the only other character he interacts with. Pears’ habit of setting Leo so firmly in his environment has a downside as well as an upside – it’s easy to lose sight of him, which turns The Horseman into more of a tableau vivant than a narrative. And it is not as though the early 20th century hasn’t been thoroughly mined by English writers already. But Pears specialises in going his own way and doing the unexpected, so I am ready for volume two.