Book Review: War Horse

I've mentioned this before on these blogs, but I have a bit of a thing about reading the book of something before I see the film, and as we're in prime adaptation season I'm having to do a lot of reading! This is the first in a double-header of reviews of books which are hitting the big screen, and I've chosen Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, mainly due to its relative slimness as I was waiting for my Kindle to be delivered when I bought it (more on that later).

If you don't know the plot of War Horse, then presumably you've been living under a rock for the last few months, but to recap: it follows the story of Joey, a horse bought by a farmer who gradually develops a strong friendship with the farmer's son Alfred, before the First World War and family money problems mean the pair are separated and Joey is shipped off to fight in France, with Albert pledging to come and find him as soon as he's old enough. What follows is an epic tale of human nature and how war draws everyone into its grasp.

I really liked the originality of using Joey's voice to show the war from both sides, as well as those who weren't involved directly in the conflict. It seems like a really obvious way of going against the typically over-simplified war narrative of 'British good, Germans bad' but it's incredibly effective, and really gives a sense of both the fear and cameraderie of battle. However, it does have a slightly episodic feeling and a sense of 'it was like this, and then this happened', which made it feel a bit simplistic, although I suppose that's the way that a horse would think in terms of distinguishing the passage of time.

The book is peppered with beautiful snapshots of the relationships Joey develops with specific people as well as brutal moments where they are snatched away, often in the full-on battle scenes but equally in the slow, painful way that life so often takes people. There are also two heart-rending if predictable scenes near the end, where if you don't at least get sniffly then you have a heart of stone. Overall, whilst it's not exactly the most dense of novels and you do need to get into the right mindset to truly appreciate it, it is heart-warming and uplifting and great as a quick read. I can't wait to see if the film matches up.

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