Only two things in life matter to fourteen-year-old Sarah: her horse Boo and her grandfather Henri Lachapelle. Henri sees Sarah's skill at horsemanship as her way out of their inner city London life and wants her to follow in his footsteps and become a member of France's elite equestrian academy Le Cadre Noir.
Natasha is an overworked lawyer, unsure of her own professional judgement and still reeling from her failed marriage and three miscarriages. When her ex-husband Mac returns to their home after a year apart Natasha finds she can barely cope.
When Sarah and Natasha's paths cross Natasha finds tragic circumstances have left Sarah fending for herself and she feels compelled to help. As Natasha and her ex Mac take Sarah on they have no idea the secret Sarah is keeping, a secret that will take all three on a difficult journey of self discovery. Will their lives ever be the same again?
If you want a nice long read that you can lose yourself in this may be the book for you. It kept me quiet over several days sitting in the garden and from the first page Moyes had my full attention. The novel starts with a beautiful and evocative prologue on Henri Lachapelle's experiences as a member of Le Cadre Noir in the 1950s, which sets the romantic undertone of the novel perfectly.
But then Moyes brought me back to earth with a bit of a bump as the novel begins properly in the present with Natasha, a character I wasn't convinced by as we are introduced to her breaking a whole host of public transport etiquette. Moyes is clearly very good at her job as my first impressions were soon long gone, replaced by sincere sympathy for Natasha and the pain and heartache she carries with her from her broken marriage.
Unlike Natasha I felt immediate compassion for Sarah and her life of perpetual struggle with her grandfather in a rough inner city neighbourhood. Sarah's courage, resilience and maturity jump off the page as she fights so hard against the hand life has dealt her by pushing her horsemanship skills to the limit.
Both women are clearly lost in their lives, trapped by circumstances beyond their control, with no clear way out, and of course this is what brings them together, but also keeps them emotionally distant from one another as the novel progresses.
As the story continues with Natasha and Sarah circling each other, I'm afraid it lost me for a bit as I became frustrated at Natasha's refusal to realise that she needs to invest some time in Sarah, while Sarah copes with frightening situations all by herself and is unable to ask for help. However, I stuck with it and after a few chapters where events just plod along with no movement forward Moyes suddenly picks up the pace again, the novel sets off in a new direction, and the last two hundred pages went whizzing by.
The unexpected saving grace for the novel is Mac, Natasha's ex-husband. At first a seemingly surplus character, Mac's importance becomes more obvious as it is his feelings of responsibility towards Sarah and love for Natasha that shine through and he really is the hero here as he saves the day for Sarah and Natasha by the most selfless of means.
It may sound like I wasn't completely convinced by this novel, but I can honestly say that apart from a few bumps here and there I loved it all and was impressed by Moyes' easy writing style and unique story inspired by her own love of horses. I wished there had been more about Henri Lachapelle and Le Cadre Noir but maybe that's a point to Moyes for making the short glimpses of this romantic world so enthralling.