Native Speech

THE FLYING CHANGES BOOK CLUB I’ve just read National Velvet for the first time, and I confess to being slightly wigged out.

It’s dark, and I wasn’t expecting that.

I was flummoxed by it from the start, felt the claustrophobia of the Brown’s dour house, the sharpness of their discourse— the impenetrable quality of their speech. I imagine that if I had read it as a child I would have skipped over all the mystifying bits and cut straight to the horsey stuff, but even these were fairly freaky. The dude who shoots himself after willing Velvet all his ponies? WTF?

I confess to being thoroughly confused, as well, when it became clear that the big race was most certainly coming— that there was at least a third of the book to go— and was completely unprepared for the book’s descent into polemic around the press. Given that Enid Bagnold was married to the then-head of Reuters [thanks, Wikipedia], it explains her uncontestable veracity, but makes one wonder what Himself said when he read the account.

Perhaps he didn’t read it all— perhaps that was what it really about.

Bagnold’s voice is a strange mix of Joyceian tapestry and telegrammic abruptness, and it reminds me of an author I tried to read once and didn’t like. Can’t remember his name, a 40s dude, I think I got on to him because of Henry Miller; he wrote practically in headlines, lots of all caps and other typographic annoyances. Name escapes me, and it’s bugging me, now. [Gah: just tried googling ‘writers Henry Miller liked’. Nothing.]

And to show the race from Mi’s point of view! Unexpected, and I suppose designed to make the reader feel like one of the hordes of the curious who descend upon Velvet, post-race.

Terse, dark, strange— Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet? That’s Hollywood for you. Eh, maybe I’ll give the DVD a whirl. But I can’t say that I’m down with this apparent classic. Give me the Saddle Club any day.

One Reply to “Native Speech”

  1. Haven’t read NV in years but I remember it being v dark, esp the focus on the dynamics b/w Velvet’s parents [mild acidic Mr Brown, big ex-Channel Swimmer Mrs Brown]. Oh, & Velvet’s braces / teeth restraint seemed to be a major issue 🙂 And was Mi’s role in the book more prominent & brotherly or have I lost those particular memory cells to Bushmills? I HATED the movie needless to say. Liz Taylor *shudder*

    Another great horse & pony writer is K M Peyton [Fly-By-Night; The Team et al] – children’s / YA fic I guess but pretty realistic & gritty. Lucy Rees’ Wild Pony is a great & touching read too. I’m a big fan of YA fiction, can you tell? Of course these are probably all out of print now, since I’m so ancient! Still hunting for more recent good stuff … don’t think I could stomach the Heartland series et al!

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