Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent (Re)-Reading: The Grey Horse by RA MacAvoy

I’m finding it nearly impossible to get any productive work down right now because I am too stressed about Giedre’s upcoming litter — she is due in about ten days; the puppies will be viable in . . . about . . . six days, but the closer to term she can carry them, the better. It can be touch and go, getting preemies through their first week, as I know from experience, unfortunately. All the way to term would be ideal! What I really want is vigorous, lively puppies over six ounces (eight would be better), with fur right down to their noses and toes. I’ve saved one quite premature puppy (Giedre herself, actually), but I’ve also lost one, which is no fun.

I LOVE Whelpwise. And I love having a Doppler, now that I have learned to use it. The first time I tried to find puppy heartbeats, last week, I could find NOTHING. Naturally this was pretty disturbing — I did say I’m stressed out, right? — so I zipped her up to St L and had a professional ultrasound done, which of course was not free but was totally worth it because the puppies were fine. Thank God.

A few days later, a Whelpwise person talked me through the Doppler, listening with me over the phone. I can’t believe what experienced people can tell over the phone! She was like, “That whoosh whoosh whoosh is the umbilical cord, you’re right on top of a puppy, tip the probe one way and another — there, that’s the heartbeat, I know the Doppler is telling you an insanely low number but just keep it right there for ten seconds — there you go, see, good, strong heartbeat. Now let’s try moving the probe two inches forward and one inch up toward her spine…”

And we landed right on top of the next puppy, just like that. And you know what? It’s possible (not certain!) that Giedre has four puppies in there, not three. On the other side, where she was just supposed to have just one puppy, the Whelpwise person — sorry, I don’t remember her name — was all, “Well, I know they said three, but I’ve learned to check, so let’s just move the probe three inches forward and a good two inches up and let’s just listen for a bit right there . . . okay, either you’re listening right through her to a puppy on the other side, or you have four in there, and I kind of think it’s the latter.”

How about that? That was a week ago today. This morning I listened for just fifteen minutes and I’m pretty sure I heard four loud heartbeats, all safely in the range of 220 beats per minute.

I am now doing a uterine monitoring session. At the moment I am doing one hour of uterine monitoring at 8:00 AM, 4:00 PM, and midnight (!). Giedre is on terbutaline to make her stop having early contractions — the Whelpwise people are very reassuring about being able to get nearly every bitch to term with consistent monitoring and carefully adjusted terbutaline. I think I now have a much better idea why Giedre’s mother lost three out of four puppies from her last litter: I think it was early contractions just like this. That will certainly be a new question to ask about prospective stud dogs: did his mother carry puppies to term normally? Did she ever have puppies die a day or two in advance of whelping for no obvious reason? How about his sisters?

All that is a long, long intro for why I am re-reading books instead of a) reading new-to-me fiction or b) getting work done on my own projects. After I (hopefully) have thriving puppies out here in the world, I will be much calmer. Plus locked in at home and desperately bored. That should be a good time to get real work done.

In the meantime: THE GREY HORSE by RA MacAvoy. This book was originally published in 1987, which, wow, is an awfully long time ago now. It’s set in Ireland, and the grey horse is a pooka — mischievous in this case, but not willfully cruel. At least not to people who don’t deserve it.

I’m noticing so much about this book that I wasn’t prepared to notice almost thirty years ago. Like: I love how important characters are seventy years old. And another important character is nine or so. Both feel right, both the old Anrai and the young Toby.

I love how the romantic interest is not conventionally pretty, and has a “punch on her like the kick of a horse.” I love how the Catholic priest is presented, and how the conflict between Christianity and the fairy world is presented as . . . far from irreconcilable, shall we say.

Some of the family relationships are pretty sad, though. In fact, every single family is shown as having one serious conflict: Blondell and his snobbish English wife, Maire and her unkind father and sister, and most of all Anrai and his wastrel son. All of these relationships drive the real conflicts in the story and lend the whole novel depth, which would be lacking if the major conflict was, say, the race between the “native-bred” pooka and the English Thoroughbred.

I really enjoyed all the characters — I appreciated even the characters I didn’t like. I already knew I loved Ruairi MacEibhir, the pooka. That, I remembered. I love how he is not conventionally heroic, drawing instead from the Trickster tradition, but nevertheless has a good heart. The first scenes, where he seduces Anrai into sitting on his back and then runs away with him in a good-natured but slightly malicious way, is priceless. Anrai is not in the slightest danger of anything but embarrassment, since he’s a fabulous horseman and anyway the pooka isn’t trying to drown him or anything. There is so much for horse lovers to enjoy in these scenes.

I love how Ruairi courts Maire, too. I love the house he builds for her, and how he had no idea one could by slate tiles for your roof as you can buy cabbages — such a baffling problem for him until someone explained it.

And, yes, I enjoy MacAvoy’s writing. “A little moment later, as the horse was rising up (very fast, as though on springs), it occurred to Anrai that the thing to have done was to put the halter on the horse before climbing on. Simple mistake. Because now the animal had bounded off, striking sparks from the road in its flight, so there really would be no opportunity to do so now…. Anrai sat the wild gallop of the wild horse with his hands in his lap, thinking that he had done a very silly thing, for an old man.”

And here, in Chapter Two: “Aine said the pig trotters were ruined. This was not true, of course, but it was the closest she could get to scolding Anrai for coming home wet and weary, when that had been no fault of his own. Anrai, wrapped in a blanket and with his feet in wool over a hot stone, sat by the kitchen fire and ate two of the trotters and a great heap of mash, both of which he covered in buttermilk and a crystalline layer of salt. He told her about the horse, but not that he had mounted it without bridle or halter. She told him the chestnut filly had kicked Donncha, and what liniment she had used, but she did not tell him about the letter from Seosamh, their only child. Aine and Anrai had been married for forty years.”

They had been married forty years. That is a very, very nice way to end that paragraph.

If you love horses, or for that matter fairies, or Irish settings, then this a story that’s well worth looking up.

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8 Comments Recent (Re)-Reading: The Grey Horse by RA MacAvoy

  1. Kristina

    It’s nice to see your take on this one. You make me want to go back and re-read it now.

    I’ve got my fingers crossed that all goes well for the whelping.

  2. Rachel

    Thanks! I would have ALL MY FINGERS permanently crossed, except that would make it hard to type. I will say, it was highly reassuring to be able to pick up strong heartbeats this morning, and then confirm that Giedre was not having contractions, at least not in the hour when I was monitoring.

  3. Charlotte

    The Grey Horse is far and away my favorite of her books…I have read it often and often. I love how she has to be won over–it’s not the insta paranormal love you see in some many YA books these days!

    And my fingers are crossed for you for the next 6-10 days….

  4. Rachel

    Tea With the Black Dragon? But yes, The Grey Horse is probably my second favorite of MacAvoy’s books. Except that thirty years ago I didn’t realize how tired I would be of insta-love by now. On the re-read, I REALLY appreciated Maire’s truly hard-to-get attitude.

    And thanks.

  5. Estara Swanberg

    Crossing my fingers and pressing my thumbs (which is what we do over here) for you and the prospective mother ^^. I still have my original Grey Horse copy. I discovered McAvoy with the German translation of the Damiano trilogy.

  6. Rachel

    Yes, I have lots of books that are thirty or forty years old but in good shape. I’ve always been fanatical about taking care of my books.

    Pressing your thumbs? I’ll try that, though I’m not sure I’ll use the right technique.

  7. elaine t

    here’s hoping for successful whelping!

    On old book survival, I was astonished at the EE Smith LENSMENS I just read for the first time, which are 60+ year old paperbacks and still tightly glued, pages whole, and feel good to the touch, not fragile. BTW, I enjoyed them. I’ve read much purpler prose than THAT.

  8. Rachel

    Wow, that is impressive. Earlier this year, Chachic was bemoaning the problem with keeping books in good shape in the overwhelming humid environment of Singapore. Glad that’s not a big problem for me.

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