- Amis, Martin — London Fields (471 pages)
- Morpurgo, Michael — War Horse (182 pages)
- Page count
I hadn't intended to read a Michael Morpurgo novel yet, and I hadn't intended War Horse to be my first Morpurgo novel, but Hollywood has a way of influencing my reading choices. When I announced I wanted to go to the cinema for my birthday, War Horse was the only film the Mad Fisher and I could agree on, and so Morpurgo's novel was bumped to the top of the list.
I reckon most of you are familiar with the movie and only a few of you are familiar with the book. It's a fine movie — grand, sweeping, emotionally charged — and but for a few minor alterations essentially the same story. Yet there are things conveyed in the book that would not easily work in a film adaptation.
For one, the book's story is told from Joey's perspective. I don't think that could have been done in the movie without sinking to Disney-like levels of cute and diminishing the story's emotional impact, yet in the book it works naturally and to great effect. And because we see the world through Joey's eyes, we begin to understand, to a degree not expressible in film, his devotion to Albert and Topthorn and so much more of the ordeals he faces. Also, because the story is told from a horse's perspectives, we are allowed to see war for what it is without preconceived notions or prejudices towards either side, as a horse would have no such notions.
This last point is particularly important, because this is not just a book about a remarkable horse and about faith and love and perseverence; it's an anti-war book. And it's important to recognise that war is hell regardless of which side you're on, and that there are good, upstanding people caught up in circumstances beyond their control on either side of a conflict.
If you have not read War Horse, I encourage you to. Don't be put off (if such things tend to do so) by this being a children's book. War Horse may have been written in a style that is accessible to children, but this is an important book for children and adults alike.
I just wanted to add a personal note that has absolutely nothing to do with the book. A few weeks after we saw the movie, the Mad Fisher found ourselves one sunny winter afternoon in Castle Combe, the village where War Horse (and, apparently, Stardust and other shows) were filmed. It's a quaint picturesque village in the Cotswolds and definitely worth an afternoon visit if you happen to be passing through Wiltshire County.