I read this back in 2008 or something and my reaction was kind of “meh.” So when the Booker Prize Reading Group chose it for discussion I was going to rely on memory. But the books are all Man Booker listers and it’s a great group of perceptive readers – maybe I’ll get more out of it the second time.
Well – my eyes just aren’t what they were so I had to order the Kindle version and then I found the Audbile version was seriously reduced in price because I had the Kindle. So that’s what I did – I listened to the Audible and did some rereading from the Kindle plus having the Kindle to take to bed – a favorite thing while playing majohg on ye olde Mac (or watering the weeds or doing chores).
The results? The second read here is much, much better than the first although I certainly see why I got more than a bit lost the first time. A common pitfall of literary thrillers is that the literary has a tendency to slow down the suspense and that’s true here. So the first reading was all about plot – what’s going on? Where is Jennifer and what’s with the money? Why has Billie been returned alone and what is it she won’t talk about – why won’t she talk at all? What’s with the men on horses outside the neighboring ancient gothic castle in Ireland?
The answers to these questions became much clearer on the second reading – (and 3rd if the Kindle and Audible are separate – but no – same reading.)
The Epigraph is from “Tom Traubert’s Blues” per Wiki is aka – “Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen” and sometimes referred to incorrectly as “Waltzing Matilda”, the song from which it borrows. American musician Tom Waits wrote and sang this one.
A-and – Scully was certainly waltzing some kind of Matilda there – and he’s got a “billy” (Billie) too – like in the song – like in the original scene!.)
Scattered throughout are sections of Raglan Road – (only one stanza missing) – Do the Parts fits with the themes? – Yes, totally fitting – I wonder if it separates out into meaningful pieces or if that was simply stylistic. Kavenaugh and Luke Kelly
The book opens with (Fred) Scully, an Australian, fixing a small, very old and deteriorating house in northern Ireland. He and his pregnant wife Jennifer bought the house on one of her whims. Then Jennifer returned to Australia with Billy to tie up ends. Scully meets the neighbors and one night experiences an eerie and threatening scene with horses and armed men outside the gothic castle on the neighboring property.
The house in Australia sells very quickly, but only Billie returns – there’s no word about Jennifer. Not only that, but Billie is obviously shaken to her core and won’t talk. Scully and Jennifer have been vagabonding for several years so he now he decides to take Billie and go look for his wife by revisiting some favorite places thinking something might have happened to her – she might have had a “spell,” or something happened to the baby – worried and angry – but why has she not contacted him?
Scully and Billie travel back to an island near Greece but find no trace of Jennifer – are told by old and less than reliable friends to leave. Now the plot really takes over because at heart The Riders is really a thriller so the tension, action and suspense builds. (And I was totally caught up in it because I’d forgot how it ended!)
Scully is an odd character – he’s male and completely besotted by Jennifer and tends to follow her lead. In the places they live he does hard manual labor to provide the basics for the family while Jennifer dallies in the arts and decides where to live and what to take up next. She’s “finding herself.” He also tends to be the caretaker of their child. creates a nest for the family in Ireland, waits for Jennifer and then chases after her.
Winton has used a lot of symbolism, there are the horses and numerous Christian references and I don’t think I understand the half of it (and the half I have a handle on would entail spoilers). But the language is wonderful – way richer and more complex than your average thriller, the structure is very interesting, surprising at times, the characters are well drawn but not overly so, and the various European settings are distinct and very nicely drawn.
I believe there are drugs and child abuse involved here, too – read carefully – nothing is overtly stated but there’s the missing money and Amsterdam, the cocaine mention, Billie’s urination problem, her “knowingness” and the photos of Jennifer. There’s more – Scully is seriously co-dependent while Billie is incredibly needy.
Bottom line – this reading was way better than the first time and I think I might need to see if I can find any explanations of the symbolism – is it haunting – an omen – ? Is Scully a kind of Christ symbol – in what way?
This is pretty good but I think you can go further: https://lynleystace.wordpress.com/2010/09/04/the-riders-by-tim-winton/