As a young man, Henri Lachapelle is the star of La Cadre Noir, an elite group of horsemen in the French city of Saumur. But when he meets Florence, it’s love at first sight and he gives it all up to be with her in England. Now, he lives on a London estate with his granddaughter Sarah but his dream lives on. In a stable under railway arches, lives Boo, a Selle Francais he bought as a colt for Sarah; together they train him and he gives them purpose. But when Henri suffers a stroke, Sarah must go into foster care and do whatever it takes to not be parted from Boo, even if that means hiding his existence.
Lawyer Natasha is in the middle of a divorce with her ex Mac when she finds Sarah shoplifting a packet of fishfingers. Used to dealing with underprivileged kids, she takes Sarah home to find her living by herself and a broken in flat. When she takes her in for the night, little does she know the future the three of them will have.
It may seem odd to imagine horses in the inner city but London was built up around horses and they do remain in the city today. Jojo Moyes’ story is based partly from her own youth spent at inner city stables and a moving tale of a child from Philadelphia, who overcame her lot in life to be chosen to ride for Yale before tragedy struck her family. If you don’t like horses, you may find the relationship between Sarah and Boo difficult to fathom but she completely loves that horse and is her anchor when everything else is falling apart. There were a few moments when I thought things didn’t make sense but with patience, the things I expected would happen in that situation do.
Natasha’s not the most amicable character and you may struggle to connect with her. She comes across as cold and unreasonable towards poor Mac. Yes they might be getting divorced, but they have chosen to do something together and he seems a lovely guy despite his dubious taste in girlfriends. I wanted to give her a slap at several points; her mind was so changeable! Their relationship was a little too much rollercoaster and I think she has refined her writing since.
There are a few similarities between The Horse Dancer and her new novel, The Girl You Left Behind, especially the addition of legal aspects. I could see that the things Natasha dealt with in her job were reflective of some of the things going on with Sarah but I found them a bit distracting to the overall plot.
But really, the most important character is Boo. He may never speak but he brings all the characters together, good or bad. So many times I was so worried for his safety. A wonderful talented and loyal horse, I want my own Boo! Definitely read if you like horses, or even just enjoyed the dressage this summer (although the airs above the ground are rarely performed outside displays by La Cadre Noir and The Spanish Riding School of Vienna). If you don’t really see the point of horses, I’m not sure you will care enough about what’s going on…although this book may change that for you.
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