D.H. Lawrence links horse riding with sexual relationships (and perhaps marriage) when he describes the industrialist, Gerald Crich, fighting to subdue an Arabian mare at a railway crossing where a train is passing: “…he leaned forward, his face shining with fixed amusement, and at least he brought her down, sank her down, and was bearing her back to mark. But as strong as the pressure of his compulsion was the repulsion of her utter terror, throwing her back away from the railway, so that she spun round and round on two legs, as if she were in the centre of some whirlwind” (Women in Love, “Coal Dust”). Lee Hope, in her richly imagined and ambitious novel, Horsefever, explores a similar dynamic both between rider and horse and between women and men, but she goes beyond Lawrence to explore riding as a metaphor for the challenge and art of story-telling. Her story-in-progress itself becomes the author’s mount, as it were, a mount with a will and spirit of its own.
Forty-year-old Nikki is obsessed with horse eventing; dangerous, multiday meets riding over jumps on spirited horses. Her wealthy property developer husband, Cliff, knows that when Nikki was a child her older sister died falling off a horse and the sister’s loss destroyed her family. He is terrified that Nikki will hurt herself, so for their 15th wedding anniversary he buys her the services of a trainer. Gabe is a former international eventer who was severely disabled when a horse rolled on him and has tried to come to terms with his physical loss through meditation. Under his tutelage Nikki’s riding improves but buried emotional issues start to roil to the surface for all, including growing jealousy between the couples: Gabe and his wife, Carla, and Nikki and Cliff. Working together as trainer and athlete, Nikki and Gabe demonstrate the passion necessary for international-level athletes, but they dance perilously close to the line where obsession becomes unhealthy and possibly dangerous. VERDICT An exciting insider portrayal of the affluent and insular world of horse eventing along with a moving portrait of two marriages and the costs of trying for athletic perfection.
—Jan Marry, Library Journal
Nikki Swensen has no interest in playing it safe. An eventer, she competes in what is one of the most perilous of equestrian sports, riding a horse at a breakneck pace over a multitude of cross-country hurdles. Nikki, who has a taste for difficult horses, has competitive drive in spades, but she fears the sport as much as she loves it—a dangerous combination. Afraid for her safety, Nikki’s reluctant husband hires the enigmatic Gabe, a formerly successful ex-eventer left half-crippled after an accident, to train her. As Gabe pushes Nikki to find her courage and connect with her horse, the connection between rider and trainer also grows, sending their respective spouses into a volatile tailspin of jealousy and catapulting them all toward tragedy. This atmospheric first novel thrusts readers into the intense, often seedy world of competitive horsemanship. Though the concept will certainly appeal to those interested in equine sports, the shifting character dynamics and tense plot will hook fans of suspense as well as horse lovers.
I certainly won’t spoil the story by telling you how this marital tension plays out, but I will say it’s like helplessly watching an impending train wreck.
There are also riveting moments any rider can identify with–times when things click for Nikki and her unpredictable horse, Beau, and times when there are heart-wrenching disconnects. Hope does a good job of getting into the heads of everyone, including the horses. … Bottom line, Horsefever is a good read. As reviewer Richard Hoffman put it, it’s either “the sexiest serious novel . . . or the most serious sexy novel you will ever read.” At least, I would add, in the realm of horse books. In that respect, it reminds me of the work of British author Jilly Cooper, who also knows how to steam up a tackroom.
Hope has melded a perfect concoction in Horsefever – horses, a murder mystery, a little passion, some suspense, all wrapped around our four-legged friends. Add this one to your 2016 reading list.
“Lee Hope’s Horsefever may be a romance first and foremost, but it also tells the story of the highs and lows of breaking into upper-level equestrian competition and what — or whom — it takes to get there. So if you’re “not a romance person,” just trust me on this one; I came for the horses too, and I stayed because I suddenly found myself unable to put it down.”