“Where White Horses Gallop” Book Review
This is a book review of a Cape Breton author, Beatrice MacNeil’s book, "Where White Horses Gallop. It is set in World War II and is a sad, tragic story, but not without heroes and heroines who are brave and stalwart. It is well worth the read.
WHERE WHITE HORSES GALLOP
Book Review by Katherine Tapley-Milton
Beatrice MacNeil is a Cape Breton author who has written ten plays, four of which have been adapted for CBC radio and have won awards. She also has a best selling novel, “Butterflies Dance in the Dark” which has won the Dartmouth Fiction award. Her children’s book, “There is a Mouse in the House of Miss Crouse” won the Marianna Dempster Canadian Author’s award for Nova Scotia. MacNeil’s latest book, “Where White Horses Gallop” is a World War II story that takes place in Beinn Barra, Cape Breton.
In Where White Horses Gallop, MacNeil centers her story around four adolescent boys – Alex the poet, Benny the fiddle player, Calum who wants to be a doctor, and
Hector who always has a joke ready. These characters live in the 1930s-40’s and three of them go off to war. Benny comes back from war unable to talk and lives in a world of madness after his right hand was blown off. Calum is killed by the Germans and Hector is captured and taken to a German POW camp. Alex is hidden by his mother in the attic, but dies when the house catches on fire. In the end only Hector survives and after rehabilitation in Camp Hill Hospital eventually comes to terms with his experience of war.
This book is steeped in Cape Breton culture. The characters can all speak Gaelic,
love good fiddle playing, and are surrounded by the sea and fishing. However, this is not a book to read if you want a happy ending. In the book, I noticed the conspicuous absence of babies, and children. The only child –like character is Hamish, a mentally handicapped boy who drags a handicapped hen around in a wagon. Where White Horses Gallop deals mostly with ruined people and tragic deaths. On page eighty-two Hector’s father, named Gunner thinks, “Combat eventually destroys even the strongest, the fittest of men. If the hide is spared the conscience is not.”
The theme of white horses galloping runs through the book and page eight explains it’s source, “On the floor, beside the bed, was a hooked rug that his grandmother first imagined in a dream. She forced herself to look at the rug. Four white horses galloping along a beaten path. A lone figure watching from a distance. The rug was as old as her son. She must remember to pull it up and preserve its life in mothballs. Some lives can be protected.” Throughout Where White Horses Gallop, MacNeil writes in a poetic, tightly woven narrative that makes you care about the characters. Her book bristles with Cape Breton pride.