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On the Edge - Jenny Pitman

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Author: Jenny Pitman / Genre: Fiction

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      14.12.2005 18:25
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      A loosely-plotted story about the racing world.

      I didn’t borrow this book from the library with any great expectations, but I’ve an interest in horse racing and a need for something to read when I can’t sleep.

      Jan Hardy’s husband dies of cancer, leaving her with two young children and a farm in Wales. She’s successfully trained point-to-point horses and decides that she’ll sell the farm and buy a property closer to her parents with the intention of making a living as a trainer. The book takes us through the period when she’s trying to establish herself and the problems she faces. There’s a stereotypical mother-in-law, a dubious auctioneer, some doting men and all the usual riff-raff and gentlemen of the racing world.

      If you’ve an interest in racing then this is a reasonable enough story. Jenny Pitman was a champion race-horse trainer and one of the first women to penetrate this very masculine world. The detail about racing – from point-to-pointing through to the professional courses - is fascinating and accurate. There’s insight into the running of racing stables from, so to speak, the horse’s mouth. It’s a hard life on the bottom rungs of the ladder and it’s a business with more than its fair share of charlatans and rogues. There’s always going to be a fund of good stories. I suspect we’ll hear more of them in the sequels.

      Jenny Pitman has wisely written about what she knows best. Here it’s not only the world of horse racing. After the failure of her first marriage she was left with two young sons to raise and considerable financial difficulties, so she knows the stresses and strains that are involved. We should be onto a winner then, shouldn’t we?

      Well, no, we’re not. The facts are all there but there’s very little in the way of emotion. The book opens with Jan Hardy at her husband’s funeral but I’ve felt more grief from people doing a supermarket shop. Even after the funeral she’s so calm and business-like that I began to dislike her. She meets grief and tragedy with not even a hint of a tear. Her mother-in-law is painted as bitter but she’s just watched her only son die and is going to be left on her own when Jan takes her beloved grandchildren to Gloucestershire. Can we really expect cheerfulness?

      None of the characters seem rounded or even plausible. Annabel, her assistant, is independently wealthy and moves to Gloucestershire just to help Jan. Despite playing an important part in the story I felt that I knew her no better at the end than I did at the beginning. She’s a shadowy presence ready to step in when the plot requires her. I think Eddie, dilettante son of a rich man who goes broke, is supposed to be the love interest, but in reality he just seemed to be the mandatory good-looking male. There’s a builder who dotes on Jan, but his doting seems to take the form of doing a lot of work for no more return than the pleasure of doing the work. The children behave – always – and there’s always someone there to look after them whilst Jan goes off to the races.

      The plot is straggly. Problems arise. Problems are solved. Some take longer than others and some still have loose ends dangling ready to be picked up in the inevitable sequel. Some of the solutions seem a little implausible. Rather than describe the book as having a plot I’d say that there’s a series of short stories loosely cobbled together by having common characters and settings.

      I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on Mrs Pitman. Once your training career is over and you’re down to after-dinner speaking as a way of making ends meet, what’s a girl to do other than follow the likes of Dick Francis and John Francome into the world of horse-racing fiction? She’s better than Francome (but that’s not difficult) but not as good as Francis at his best. The book’s recommended (cautiously) if you’re interested in the world of horse racing. It’s not recommended if you like your fiction tightly plotted with rounded characters.

      It was a cure for insomnia for a couple of nights though.

      Quick facts:

      • Paperback 256 pages (November 8, 2002)
      • Publisher: Pan
      • Price: £6.99 but available on Amazon for £5.59 in November 2005
      • ISBN: 0330490346

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    • Product Details

      A gripping tale of one woman's determination to pursue her dream In her first novel, set in the world of horse-training and racing, Jenny Pitman deals up her years of experience in a fast paced and heart-stopping tale of one woman's experiences following her husband's death. Jan Hardy is left to look after her two young children, and to face her bitter mother-in-law alone. But she cannot continue to make a success of the crumbling Welsh farm and the life that goes with it. The only thing she knows about is handling horses. Jan is forced to move to Gloucestershire to be near her parents, increase her profile and raise her stakes as a horse racer, choosing also to look after problem horses and pursue her dream of gaining a training license. This, she hopes, will truly secure a future for her children. As she begins to make her tentative mark on the predominantly male training scene, Jan ecnounters numerous setbacks from her family and considerable financial difficulties. And to make things worse, certain characters seem determined to make her life as difficult as possible.