Current Affairs

Dances with Wolves – Michael Blake – 7/10

“He had geared himself for criminals, a gang of lawbreakers, burglars who needed punishing. What he found instead was a pageant, a pageant of action so breathtaking that, like a kid at his first big parade, the lieutenant was powerless to do anything but stand there and watch it go by.”

dances with wolves

Lt. John Dunbar voyages west to take up a post at the western frontier, his life’s ambition. Finding the fort deserted and himself the only white man within a week’s travel, he sets about restoring the fort to appropriate standards and surveying the nearby lands. When he encounters the local Indian tribe, his diplomatic attempts are a little more open-minded than most soldiers of his time, and he slowly drawn into the Indian camp…

The overall arc, the idea, is a strong and beautiful one, and Blake went out on a limb to write a book which is overwhelming positive about the Native American tribe (assumed to be Sioux), particularly in comparison to the US Army. The novel is gentle; the writing is not complex or particularly literary. The reader is lulled into the huge expanse of the plains, Dunbar’s solitude at Ford Sedgewick, and equally the excitement of the buffalo hunt, the repeated attempts to steal Dunbar’s beloved horse and the conflict with the Pawnee grips the reader. I found the book easy to keep reading but also quite easy to put down and pick up again.

Faults? Lt. Dunbar is too good a man. It’s too easy for him to move into the Comanche world – Kicking Bird comments on it very directly (I can’t find the quote now). He never seemed to do anything selfish, foolish, or wrong. I felt this novel didn’t really know what it was, and that feeling lingered throughout. Was it an Army v Indians frontier adventure? A romance (there was more than enough gentle romantic language for it to qualify)? A social commentary?

The film made from this book (which originally started life as a speculative screenplay, which may explain the fairly simple style of writing) won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture (first Western film to win since 1931), Best Director and Best Sound. Sounds like I need to add that to my LoveFilm request list!

Additional information:
Copy from Bookmooch.
Publisher: Anchor Books, 184 pages (paperback)
Order Dances with Wolves from Amazon*
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The Horse Whisperer – Nicholas Evans – 4/10

“Sometimes what seems like surrender isn’t surrender at all. It’s about what’s going on in our hearts.”

Grace and Judith take their horses out on a snowy New York morning. A collision with a sleep-deprived trucker leaves one pair dead and a girl and horse fighting for their lives. Annie becomes convinced that her daughter’s fate is inextricably linked with the fate of her horse, and tracks down a horse whisperer to heal the crippled equine.  Soon it’s not just the girl and the horse whose futures are linked…

Yes I know this is chick lit of the greatest degree – ponies, cowboys, “the massive Montana sky”… Skipping right along:

It is very obvious after about page 100 that it is Annie with whom we are supposed to sympathise – this is Annie’s story, not Grace’s. Grace becomes a truculent, wilful child who is irritating to her mother – instead of the scarred survivor we should see. Annie – well I have no patience with characters who commit adultery, so… I was never going to like her. Evans does convey a very credible character though – she is stressed, trying to do a good job (eventually, just trying to keep her job), doesn’t understand why her child is resisting her helpful efforts, feels guilty for not being around more… I didn’t really understand her relationship with Robert (Grace’s dad) – there is an explanation of how they have got to where they are, but he seemed to just fade out of the picture once Annie and Grace went to Montana.

I quite enjoyed Tom’s back-story and his reticence with actual humans, but could I shake the idea that his name was Robert Redford (I saw the film maybe 8 years ago?)? No. As a reviewer on Bookmooch pointed out, this book was written for film – there’s pathetic fallacy and dark foreboding everywhere.

As for plot… the accident and the recovery are really a shell into which to tuck Annie and Tom’s romance and Annie’s reawakening as a country girl (or some sort of pretence thereat). And I don’t get on brilliantly with this romance business, so to me it was all just a lot of talking and stuff.

Maybe 4/10 is a bit harsh – it achieves what it sets out to do. I just don’t feel emotionally invested in any of the characters, like I did in Love Verb, intrigued by the interpersonal drama like I did in Touching Distance, or blown away by language and situation like in Bel Canto.

Additional info:
This was a personal copy from a big box purchase.
Publisher: Corgi, paperback, 479 pages.
Order this from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards giveaways.