Wednesday 21 March 2018

A brave departure

In his long-awaited fifth novel, The Horse Whisperer author Nicholas Evans uses a shifting narrative to tackle themes of guilt, identity, self-acceptance and perceptions of heroism through the eyes of the protagonist as both child and adult.

Meek, weird bedwetter Tom Bedford is regularly tormented and beaten by pupils and staff at his English boarding school. His only comforts are his fantasy world of cowboy heroes and letters from his beautiful older sister Diane.

Tom's life takes a turn for the better when Diane, hailed as the next big thing in the acting world, moves them to Hollywood and falls in love with one of Tom's idols, TV cowboy Ray Montane.

The reclusive boy blossoms in the brightness of the Californian lifestyle and the horrors of England seem behind him. But Hollywood's seedy side begins to creep into the life Diane and Tom have built and an act of violence has life-long repercussions.

More than 40 years later, Tom lives a lonely life in a Montana cabin. He is haunted by guilt and secrets, divorced, alcoholic and estranged from his only son, Danny.

When Danny, a US marine in Iraq, is accused of murder, Tom is forced to examine the horrific events of his past in order to understand and ultimately save his child.

All of Devon-born Evans's novels are at least partially set in the wide open spaces of Montana and The Brave is no exception. But the writer does stretch himself further than in previous novels, taking in modern-day Iraq, 1950s England and 1960s Hollywood.

He does, unfortunately, sometimes spread himself too thin. While the Hollywood story is extremely engaging, the Iraq section is too flimsy to give any real insight.

The main characters and their emotional connections may not draw in the reader in the way Annie Maclean and Tom Booker did in The Horse Whisperer, but there is a strong desire to discover their secrets and their fate.

Through his storytelling skills, sound plot construction and ease with descriptive landscapes, Evans keeps a firm grip on interest until the end. Fans will not be disappointed.

Irish Independent

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