Book Review: ‘Foal’s Bread’ by Gillian Mears

Foal's Bread is an extraordinary piece of writing and 47-year-old Gillian Mears' first novel in sixteen years.
Foal's Bread

Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears, Allen & Unwin, $32.99

” ‘Hope on, hope ever,’ repeated Noah as [husband] Roley carefully hammered two tiny holes into the top of each side of the foal’s-bread heart and hung it by some string on a nail on the door of their hut…’

And herein hangs the powerful thread of Gillian Mears’ triumphant tale of eternal hope, born of endless torment, as pig herdsgirl and country showground jumper Noah — “someone left out the ‘r’ they reckon… her mother died just after she was born…” pins this extraordinary book’s eponymous lucky charm (a foal’s bread is a meat sometimes found in the mare’s placenta) and all her hopes above the outhouse at her in-law’s property in country NSW in the early 1930s.

Biting on a cob to give birth alone to her abusive Uncle Nipper’s baby at fourteen, bedding ‘Little Mister’ in a wooden butter box and sending him hurtling off down Flaggy Creek — “the lighthouse failing to detect anything that small…”

Mears’ torrential introduction to Noah, plunges us into an ever spinning current of hope and survival, versus despair and self-destruct, from chapter one.

We three only (the reader, Mears and Noah) carry this secret burden throughout the book as it hurtles towards a harrowing but captivating climax.

Foal’s Bread is an extraordinary piece of writing and 47-year-old Gillian Mears’ first novel in sixteen years.

Contemporary Australian classics The Mint Lawn and The Grass Sister were published when she was in her twenties.

It was written by wheelchair-bound Mears while battling Multiple Sclerosis, which onset when she was 31, and its poetry is spellbinding and spiritual, energising and awe-inspiring and surely stems from the freedom to “put ponies into a gallop and for home again”… for survivor Gillian, a passionate horsewoman.

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