Of all the books on the #BaileysPrize shortlist this year, this one lends itself to be described most suitably as an “epic”. A family saga that follows the Forges through three generations. Linked into the main character of Henry Forge are horses and not just any horses, thoroughbred horses, racing horses. Henry becomes obsessed with the very best of horses and breeding them from an early age and wants to completely renovate the family farm to create a stud farm. He eventually realises his dream and is assisted by his grown daughter Henrietta and a black groom fresh from prison, Allmon. As the three lives intertwine to create a new super-horse and win the Kentucky Derby, events don’t go according to plan.
The “Southerness” of this book is undeniable and I could not help but imagine the dialogue read in a long Kentucky drawl that transported you right into the heat, wide fields and white supremacy of an old time. There are of course, the inevitable, comparisons with other southern classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, as there are moments in the narrative when racism and morality are questioned even though it was a norm. Parts when you hear the thoughts and reasoning of the characters that are stuck in bigotry and reel against it.
There are many disturbing aspects to this book as stories linked into all three main characters, over many generations, rise and fall through the clever and thoughtful narrative. Slavery, racism, brutality, class, poverty, incest, abuse… but throughout these dark and taboo subjects I didn’t feel that this was a depressing book. I felt that it was more of an account or cautionary tale of lives that went down the wrong paths whether it be through choice or no fault of their own.
Ultimately, a tale of redemption and emphasising the importance of always being open to new ways of thinking. The new life of Henry’s grandchild towards the end of the book represents a fresh start, a new leaf and that there is always a time to change into something better.
About C.E. Morgan
C. E. Morgan (b. 1976) is an American author. She won the 2016 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize, among other honors.
As an undergraduate, Morgan studied voice at Berea College, a tuition-free labour college for students from poor and working-class backgrounds in Appalachia.
You can purchase your copy of The Sport of Kings here.
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