Horse: A Novel

by Geraldine Brooks

Hardcover, 2022

Call number



Viking (2022), Edition: First Edition, 416 pages


"A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history Kentucky, 1850. Jarrett, an enslaved groom, and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. As the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name painting the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack. New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a 19th equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance. Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly drawn to one another through their shared interest in the horse - one studying the stallion's bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success. Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred, Lexington, who became America's greatest stud sire, Horse is a gripping, multi-layered reckoning with the legacy of enslavement and racism in America"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member tibobi
The Short of It:

An interesting snapshot of a time long gone.

The Rest of It:

"A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across
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American history." ~ Indiebound

Based on the true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a living and breathing account of Kentucky in 1850 and beyond. Jarret is the enslaved groom hired to care for young Lexington. A horse bred to win, but the unusual bond between the two is threatened to be broken when Lexington begins to get the attention of those wanting to profit off of Lexington’s noble lineage.

Fast forward to 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist becomes curious about a skeleton found in the attic of the museum. As she works to restore it, properly articulating each bone, she realizes that a horse of this stature most likely had quite a history. Enter Theo, he finds a discarded painting of a horse and it turns out that the two are related.

Horse is one of those stories that spans decades and includes many key players but the story that held my attention the most was the bond between Jarret and Lexington. Everything else, although interesting on its own, took me away from what I really wanted to focus on, this magnificent creature and the boy hired to care for him. Status, race, slavery. It’s all here.

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own but as a book club book, I think there will be plenty to discuss.

For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter.
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LibraryThing member janerawoof
My interest in the Kentucky Derby led me to pick up this book, a fascinating look at one of the greatest racehorses of the 19th century and even today, both as racer and as the sire of many champions. A Black freedman and his son, a slave, care for "Lexington." The story alternates from antebellum
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Kentucky and the civil War and its aftermath as touching the lives of these people to modern-day U.S., involving a graduate student in art history and writer for the Smithsonian magazine, woman Australian scientist studying bone structure of Lexington, to figure out why he is such a champion, and a portrait of the horse, painted with his Black groom. No, Lexington never ran in the Kentucky Derby as it was not founded until the year the horse died. Well written and well-paced as all the author's other books.
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LibraryThing member almin
Tried and can't finish, not up to her usual quality of writing, quite boring. It needs character development and a bit of subtlety, too obvious in her attempt to tell readers her thoughts on racism in America. What a missed opportunity....she should be showing, not telling.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Her writing has fallen flat and has become uninteresting. It requires character development and some nuance because the author's attempt to express her views on racism in America was far too overt. What a squandered chance; she ought to be demonstrating rather than narrating. Characters and times
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are both viewed from multiple angles. I found some of the sections to be far more intriguing than others, thus this only works well in part. Even while the famous racing horse serves as a unifying theme in the narrative, its various plot lines make it overly ambitious.
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LibraryThing member nyiper
Page by page, just a book you cannot put down!! Incredible writing, providing the flavor of the times with so many detailed examples. I was really in tears at the end because this book provides history within a fictional story but in the end we are faced with our continuing flaws as a society and
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that made me wonder if this, too, would be a banned book in certain states.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
I almost gave up on this one. The details of 19th-century horse racing and breeding were making the story drag, and contemporary character Jess's obsession with bones started bordering on the absurd when she mentally dissected her love interest, bone by bone. Ultimately, it was the characters that
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drew me in (not so much the horses and skeletons). They span a few different time periods. The starting point is the 1850s, when a thoroughbred named Darley is born in Kentucky. He is raised by a young slave named Jarret, and the two develop an uncanny symbiotic relationship that lasts a lifetime. Darley resurfaces in our time as Lexington, the greatest racehorse of his day, in several paintings where he appears with an unnamed Jarret and their mutual owners. The paintings and Lexington's preserved skeleton form the links among the various characters who are the focus of alternating chapters. In addition to Jarret, these include the painter, Thomas Scott; Jess, an Australian biologist employed by the Smithsonian to clean and reassemble specimen bones; Theo, a Nigerian-American art history PhD student at Georgetown who is working on depictions of slaves in horse paintings; and Martha Jackson, a successful art dealer who promoted Jackson Pollack and other modern abstract painters in the 1950s.

Many of the characters, including Lexington, his various owners, the painter Scott and the art dealer, are based on real persons (and a real champion horse). The multiple story lines not only depict the brutality and dehumanization of the pre-Civil War racing world but the role of African-Americans and slavery within that world, with a good measure of science, art dealership, and art history thrown in as well. The meeting of Jess and Theo unites these elements in our time, and their developing relationship and Jarret's story provide plenty of human interest that saves the novel from becoming too dry. At first, the multiple stories and time periods are a little off-putting, but Brooks brilliantly ties them together as the novel develops. Just when I was about to abandon 'Horse,' I was swept away. I couldn't put it down and finished reading at 4:15 a.m.!
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LibraryThing member witchyrichy
Geraldine Brooks is a perennial favorite so when I saw her latest, Horse, highly recommended by several trusted friends, I put it on hold. It came more quickly than expected and I almost literally dropped everything and read it, staying up well past my bedtime last night. At its core, this is the
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story of Lexington, the greatest race horse of all time, whose skeleton is now on display in Kentucky. The horse is surrounded by people both while it lives and long after its death who are grappling with the larger issues the horse brings up, most fundamentally related to race.

Brooks weaves three timelines together around the horse's story with the primary focus on Jarret, his enslaved trainer who, despite all, manages to be there from its birth in 1850 to its death after a long life. Jarret's relationship with an equestrian painter, Thomas Scott, sets the stage for the two other timelines. In the 1950s, gallery owner and friend of Jackson Pollock, Martha Jackson encounters one of Scott's paintings and becomes obsessed. In the present day, Lexington and Jarret come to the attention of Theo and Jess, the latter a Smithsonian scientist interested in the bones, the former an art historian intrigued by the stories of the Black men at the heart of horse racing before the Civil War. Their interracial relationship forms another important theme in the book and leads to its shocking climax.

Crafted, precise, the three stories flow together, showing how history moves from generation to generation.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
Amazing book. Loved the horse. However what made the book special was the historical aspect of life in the south before the Civil war. I was less happy with the modern day story.
LibraryThing member Beamis12
Brooks is brilliant! Even when the synopsis of her book doesn't seem interesting, she proves the reader wrong, time and time again. Combining the story of a legendary race horse in the past with the racial injustice that was rampant then, with the racial injustice that is still present now, is
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masterful. At first I was much more invested in the past story but by books end I was thoroughly
invested in both. Heartbreakingly so!

An unforgettable story, and yes Lexington the horse was very real, much of this story is factual in one way or another. A stirring story about the ongoing struggle for racial equality and the tragedy of a hate that continues to this day. IMO, no one could have written it better.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is the 3rd book that I have read by the author. All are excellent historical fiction but this one was the best. I did not think that the subject matter would engage me as much as it did but this was both an entertaining and an educational book. It deals with a famous 19th century(1850-75)
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racehorse named Lexington that not only won races but sired more future winners and champions than any horse ever. The story goes back and forth between the 1850's and 2019-20. Brooks connects the past story with the present where a black art historian from Nigeria(living in working in DC) and a white Australian zoologist who works for the Smithsonian come together through a painting and the skeleton of the horse to bring the story of Lexington to the surface. This is based on real history with fictional characters used to get the story a good narrative. The main character is Jarrett a slave from Kentucky who stayed with Lexington throughout his life. The story deals with slavery and its impact on freed blacks and slaves. Having just read "The Known World" this gave me more insight into slavery and the its impact on both Southern and Northern society. This story was put against the modern day racism that Theo the art historian dealt with in 2019. There have been reviews that have problem with white writers such as Brooks writing about the world of blacks but fiction writers should be able to write about whatever they want. Someone like Brooks who does her research probably is accurate in her portrayal of her characters experiences(both black and white). I strongly recommend this book. It was excellent.
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LibraryThing member delphimo
So many glowing comments on Geraldine Brooks Horse. Yes, the fictional story of the racehorse Lexington presents an interesting topic, but Geraldine Brooks’ writing bordered on a haughty, prestigious language that missed the vernacular language of many of the characters. The down-to-earth
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language of the horse trainers and jockeys jumped too high. The discussion of horse training and breeding and care opened my eyes to a world of excessive work if done correctly. Many horse lovers do not know the story of Lexington due to this horse’s pre-Derby racing. An interesting, but pompously written book.
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LibraryThing member ccayne
I am a horse person and a fan of Brooks so how could this disappoint - it didn't. I loved how she wove the past and present together in both equine and human worlds. I'm very glad that she showed what motivates much of horse racing - money over the animal. If you listen be sure to listen to the
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LibraryThing member bblum
Wonderful book, well written, insightful, great characters. Many novels that use the devise of shifting time periods feel awkward and are often hard to keep track as time changes, not this novel. So many parallels between pre Civil War and 2019. And yet it is not vicious nor did the author seem
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didactic. Even if you’re not a horse lover this book will make you respect horse racing and the dedication of those who are involved with horses. Jarrett and his horse Lexington are well developed and I cared greatly for all characters- not the bad guys. Highly recommended
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LibraryThing member breic
While "Horse" was an enjoyable read, parts of it—the characters and, especially, the plotting—struck me as too easy. The resolution of the romance. Setting the modern portion of the story in 2019, instead of during the pandemic. While I can like generic, ripped-from-the-headlines plot devices,
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I would have appreciated, and found more meaningful, something more original.
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
The author's love of horses shows in this historical fiction account of an actual racehorse, Lexington, from the Civil War era. The narrative moves between that time and the present day, with equine art and the preserved skeleton of the horse at the Smithosonian Museum stitching the two eras
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Also central to the story is the overwhelming oppression of slavery during the Civil War era and the lasting effects of it in the form of systemic racism in the present day.
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LibraryThing member SteveLindahl
Geraldine Brooks' novel, Horse, is an amazing work. I felt the emotions of all the characters in both the 19th century and modern sections. The topics the novel covers include art, horse racing, Osteology (the scientific study of bones), and racism in both antebellum America and current times.

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her afterward, Brooks mentions how she started to write the book about Lexington, the greatest stud horse in American history, but soon found she could not ignore the racism in the horse breeding and racing industries before emancipation. Many of the greatest horse trainers of the time were enslaved people. I knew indoor slaves were treated better than those in the fields but I had never thought of the treatment of slaves who had skills in high demand. Those people were respected at the tracks and sometimes put in positions of authority at the breeding farms but they were still owned and still had to navigate in a world where they were considered little more than livestock.

Although I did find some of the interpretations of modern-day racism as seen through the eyes of Jess, one of the main characters, seemed simplistic, overall, Horse is a great read!
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Dual timeline story about race and racing set in the US in 2019 and mid-1800s. The current timeline features Theo, a black doctoral student studying art history at Georgetown. He rescues an old painting of a horse and groom from his neighbor’s trash. He takes it to the Smithsonian for evaluation
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where he meets Jess, an Australian curator, who is assembling a horse’s skeleton for display. The older timeline opens in 1850 and features the bond between one of the best racehorses of his time, Lexington, and his groom, Jarret, an enslaved youth. These timelines are tied together by the painting, the horse, and the legacy of slavery.

The historical detail is impressive. It is based on a real horse, but the details of the storyline are fiction. Readers will get a feel for antebellum thoroughbred racing. For me, the touching relationship between Jarret and Lexington is a highlight of the book. The narrative shifts between time periods, adding a brief visit to a third timeline in the 1950s.

The story is a mixture of art, science, history, and social commentary. Parts of this book are compelling and beautifully written. The author is trying to do a lot with this story, and it feels a little disjointed, especially during the transitions. The 1950s timeline could probably have been cut, and elements of it included in the other two.

I found the 19th century storyline by far the most compelling. The present-day timeline is less effective as there did not seem much of a connection between Jess and Theo. I think the unexpected scene toward the end would have been even more impactful if the reader cared more about them. As a warning, there is a good amount of cruelty and tragedy in this one.
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LibraryThing member sublunarie
I don't like horses. I grew up with them, and had a connection with one once, but in general they are not the animals for me. I do, however, love Geraldine Brooks, so despite my disinterest in the subject here, I wanted to give this a read.

Interestingly enough, the horse in question, Lexington,
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along with his groomer/trainer/best friend Jarrett, has the best story in this novel. Their connection with each other, on an emotional and spiritual level, is palpable.

Unfortunately, there is a lot more than their story shoehorned in to the novel. Brooks takes on the history of American horseracing and breeding, art history, race relations, the Civil War, professional workplace sexism, modern police brutality, and more, and it's just too many plates to hold up in one story without all of them suffering.

Though Jarrett was by far my favorite character in this novel, I do not believe that his story, or the story of Theo the art historian grad student, was Brooks's stories to tell. Framing what happens to Theo through the view of his white girlfriend was tone-deaf at best. Divorced from the other topics covered in the novel, and in the hands of a different author, I think both of their stories would have been much more powerful and honest.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Partly set in pre-Civil War days and partly set in contemporary times. I much preferred the historical chapters.
LibraryThing member cathyskye
Geraldine Brooks has done it again: written a transcendent book that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Brooks is a must-read author for me, but Horse was made even more special by my teenage racehorse madness years. I read every book I could get my hands on about Thoroughbred racing and
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its stars. My mother indulged my obsession: when she went to Kentucky on a genealogy trip, I got to overdose on racehorses, meeting greats like Citation and actually seeing the grave of Lexington, the horse that Brooks centered her book upon.

In Brooks' Afterword, she says, "As I began to research Lexington's life, it became clear to me that this novel could not merely be about a racehorse, it would also need to be about race," and she does this in masterful fashion. Whether it's watching the years pass and Lexington's groom being known as one owner's Jarret after another to-- finally-- having his own name untainted by slavery (Jarret Lewis) or watching the unfolding relationship between the interracial couple Jess and Theo in 2019 and the differences in their experiences and outlooks on the world, the reader becomes totally engaged in the characters' lives.

Horse is so much more than a fascinating animal story. It is also a powerful story of art, science, and-- above all-- race. It is a story to take in deep. It is a story to remembe
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LibraryThing member janismack
If I could give this book 6 stars I would. Well written account of the race horse Lexington, from this life as a colt to his death. This book was as much about race as it was about the horse. All I can say is read it, you will not be disappointed.
LibraryThing member streamsong
This is a double timeline story.

In the present, Theo a Nigerian-American graduate student in art history at Georgetown University, pulls a painting from a neighbor’s trash pile. It seems to be the very subject he is proposing for his thesis – Civil War era paintings of horses with black grooms
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or trainers also depicted. The painting is in horrible condition. Could it possibly be real? His research takes him to the Smithsonian Museum where he meets Jess, an Australian articulation (skeleton assembly) specialist and tags along with her to uncover a skeleton of the famous racehorse Lexington which has been forgotten in storage for many years.

The earlier timeline begins in Kentucky in 1850 where a promising foal is born. A slave boy, known as Warfield’s Jarrett is there at the colt's birth and becomes inseparable from him during the horse’s brilliant racing career, his escape to the North during the Civil war and his years at stud until the great stallion passes away.

It’s a wonderful story based on an actual event where Lexington’s skeleton was truly discovered after being forgotten for decades. The skeleton is now on permanent loan to the American Museum of the Horse.

As a horse story, it’s well written. The author is a horsewoman and get the details right.

Other themes include of course, art, art restoration and art history of the horses painted before photography. The abolitionist Cassius Clay is a secondary character (yes, there is a connection with the boxer).

As Ms Brooks said the story is not about race horses but about Racism – capital R writ large. I was intrigued at the twists and stunned by the ending.

Although I always fall for a good horse story, this one is 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member Dianekeenoy
Just an incredible book! It's definitely one of my favorites for 2022! The multiple storylines run so smoothly and I loved each one of them. I love learning something that I didn't know like this historical fiction about Lexington the fastest race horse of his time!
LibraryThing member muddyboy
This book tkes place during three time periods - the 1850's, 1950's and near current times. The novel centers on a horse named Lexington and follows his influence on racing during his famous career and later as gerhaps the greatest sire of future racing champs. Other important characters are a
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young slave horse trainer, an artist that brings his image to life to future generations and ultimately art dealers and museum curators. The two histoical stories are great but the more current storyline is riddled with every contemporary trope on race and racism trendy in modern fiction.
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LibraryThing member kylekatz
2022. Book about a famous race horse from Kentucky and the black men, free and enslaved, who trained and groomed horses for the race tracks for their wealthy white owners. Also about an equestrian artist who painted the horses. And a present day timeline featuring people at the Smithsonian
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uncovering the history of the horse and the artist. Brings in how present day racism functions in our society when a black character is shot by the police. Book flows wonderfully from time period to time period building its stories with an expert hand.
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Audie Award (Finalist — 2023)
Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (Fiction — 2023)
Massachusetts Book Award (Honor Book — Fiction — 2023)
Australian Book Industry Awards (Shortlist — Literary Fiction — 2023)
BookTube Prize (Quarterfinalist — Fiction — 2023)
Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award (Winner — 2023)
Heartland Booksellers Award (Finalist — Fiction — 2023)
ARA Historical Novel Prize (Shortlist — Adult — 2022)
The Indie Book Award (Longlist — Fiction — 2023)
Notable Books List (Fiction — 2023)




0399562966 / 9780399562969
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