War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

A review of the historical children’s novel War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.

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War Horse, one of Morpurgo’s least known novels until recently, was first published in 1982 and was not a great success. It has since found world fame and accolade, thanks to a film by Spielberg and a stage play adapted by Nick Stafford.

The story centres on Joey, a young farm horse, and his young owner, Albert. War Horse is told from Joey’s perspective. He is sold to the army, by Albert’s father, to become a war horse during the Great War (1914-1918) when the British Army’s mounted division was on horseback. Through Joey’s viewpoint, we, as readers, are taken on a journey through the horrors and the humanity of the First World War. Ostensibly, this is a children’s book—Morpurgo has been the Children’s Laureate—but it is written in such a way that it is also appropriate reading for adults.

As already mentioned, the book is told by Joey. The development of Joey’s character is brilliant, and you do laugh and cry along with him. Although at times the story is difficult to read, due to the subject matter, Morpurgo makes you want to read on. The writer’s use of descriptive language is probably second to none and he uses this gift to draw the reader into the story and become invested in Joey and what becomes of him—good or bad. Morpurgo doesn’t just concentrate on the animal characters but develops the humans too. Again, with his use of language, Morpurgo makes the reader laugh, cry or get angry or frustrated with these characters and their decisions.

The author is exceptionally clever as, through Joey, he explores the futility of war. Joey cannot comprehend how people can do the awful things they do to each other or to animals. His simplistic outlook is charming but thought-provoking.

Although the stage play and film were really good, read the book; it’s better.

I would recommend this book—or any of Michael Morpurgo’s novels—to read at least once. It should be put on a list of books everyone should read. I laughed and cried and was left a bit emotional when I finished but it was worth it. Michael Morpurgo—or should I say Sir Michael Morpurgo—is an incredible writer and if you are interested in writing at all you would do well reading any of his books.

Congratulations on a well-deserved knighthood, Sir.

Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.

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