This is a 1962 novel by Barbara Comyns, who I previously read and reviewed for Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, which had a creepy and detached air, with a sinister and sardonic underbelly. This book still has a darkness to it, but there’s also more heart to it. We meet Frances on one of her most interesting and horrifying days, the day who father dies. She is lost for words on this day because she had just seen something so alluring and awful, a set of six chairs made from the skins of six men killed in the Boer War and imported by an eccentric uncle. She was of a mind to tell her father about this when she learns he had died.
So she, her mother, and her siblings are taken in by those horsey relatives mentioned in the title of the post. These relations lives on a farm where Frances is able to play with the cows, look at the pigs, gaze at the chickens, and avoid the horses. The general plot of this novel is simple how this move happens, how one aunt is terrible, and how her life moves toward the next clear stage.
The heart of this novel is in the depth of the narration. Frances notices everything. And talks about everything. But rather than be precocious, or be the older Frances looking back and understanding, this Frances is too young to process everything, but still goes for it. So there’s a lot of really funny, almost sweet, but infinitely charming little moments where a singular strange detail (such as being excused from a class just as they were about to talk about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s neck).