I remember reading National Velvet multiple times when I was younger. I was one of those horse crazy girls – show me a book about a horse and I’d read it. I recently decided to give it a re-read, and I think it holds up pretty well.
The main character is Velvet Brown, youngest (age 14) daughter of a butcher father and a mother who had famously swum the Channel years before. Velvet has a quirky imagination that is tolerated and even supported by the rest of the family. She wins a piebald horse in a raffle on the same day that she is bequeathed 5 ponies by an old man she just met. The piebald is an amazing jumper, and eventually Velvet and Mi, her father’s assistant and a close family friend, decide to find a way to enter the piebald into the Grand National race – with Velvet as the rider at a time when only men could be jockeys in that race.
The book was written in 1935, set a few years before that, and takes place in England. With all of that, there were bits and pieces that didn’t make sense to me, but I think most of them were minor and often due to regional dialect the characters spoke. This usually wasn’t frustrating, just sometimes left me curious (even after Googling, I don’t know what a candle-grease bun is).
I really enjoyed reading it again. I’m definitely going to hold onto and maybe re-read it again in the future, for the sake of nostalgia if nothing else. It’s mostly a feel-good novel. That said, there are parts that don’t hold up as well. Velvet’s mother is larger-bodied, and I had not remembered how often this is brought up. Her size is described in terms of both fat and muscle, and it’s her most defining feature. She’s a loving, supportive mother, and it’s clear that her size is supposed to be either symbolic of or a manifestation of her steadiness, protectiveness, and groundedness, but there are times that it veers into fat-phobic territory. There is also a very racist comment toward the end of the novel.
CW: brief mention of a violent suicide