Gillian Mears has been to death’s door and back. Her wonderful essay ‘Alive in Ant and Bee’ (2007) recounts the journey and the exquisite pleasures of her life as a survivor. Writing has taken a back seat, understandably, over the past decade or so. There has been a short story collection, A Map of the Gardens (2002), but a novel from Mears is quite an event, sixteen years after her last, The Grass Sister (1995), won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. It has been worth the wait. Foal’s Bread is a big and generous novel, set on a dairy farm in northern New South Wales in the mid-twentieth century: hard and often bitter times. In Mears’s world there is magic in the everyday, and portents everywhere.