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Published December 4th 2019
Being terrified of losing a job you hate
I had long been an appreciator of Elliot Perlman's works since he first published Three Dollars and his collection of short stories, The Reasons I Won't Be Coming, which remain two of my favourite books. So I was very excited to find a copy of his latest novel, Maybe the Horse Will Talk in my local library and eagerly began turning its 331 pages.
Photo courtesy Goodreads
What is it about? Maybe the Horse Will Talk is based on a sexual harassment epidemic which is uncovered at the fictional Torrent Industries company in Melbourne. After being brought to their attention, the leaders at Torrent Industries see the cases of four female staff suing the company for sexual harassment against its executives as a slight annoyance. The CEO wants the claims and the victims to go away quietly, to avoid any corporate and public embarrassment.
It is then that we meet second-year law graduate, Stephen Maserov, whose position is tentative at Torrent's defending law firm Freely Savage Carter Blanche. Maserov strikes a deal with Mr Torrent to work with his company to investigate the cases on its behalf. Part of his desperation to take on the case is that he is terrified of losing the job he hates at Freely Savage with a corridor rumour that jobs at the practice are on the verge of being cut.
Along the way, he finds an ally in AA Betga, also a former employee of Freely Savage et al, and one-time love of Carla, one of the sexual harassment victims and mother of his child, Marietta.
While all of this is happening, Maserov is dealing with being separated from his wife Eleanor and their two children, while also fighting an attraction to Jessica, an upcoming Human Resources Officer at Torrent Industries who supports "outing" the behaviour at Torrent Industries.
The novel is both character and issue-driven. The voices of its two legal characters, Stephen Maserov and A.A Betga dominate the text to ensure that the legality of the case is never far from the reader's attention. As a lawyer himself, the legal references are comfortable ground for Perlman.
The novel left me a bit disappointed. While Maybe the Horse Will Talk provides some detail and description of the unwanted sexual harassment incidents through the victim's affidavits, I would have liked a more emotive reflection of the impact of the violations on the victims.
Phot courtesy #MeToo Movt
The raw emotion of the targeted attacks, the fear and isolation that the victims felt, the anger of having been harassed in their workplace didn't lift off the page for me. A higher level of empathy and understanding for these crimes through its main characters would have been welcome.
It is not my favourite of Elliot Perlman's works though I applaud him raising the topic of workplace harassment and sexual violence in our time of raised consciousness through the #MeTooMovement. He helps to remind us that while often uncomfortable, sexual harassment needs to be discussed, and ultimately eliminated.
About Elliot Perlman Elliot Perlman is an Australian author and barrister who lives in Melbourne. He has written four award-winning novels (Three Dollars, Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Street Sweeper and Maybe the Horse Will Talk), one short story collection (The Reasons I Won't Be Coming) and a book for children.
Maybe the Horse Will Talk is published by Penguin Random House.