I wanted to see the play when it opened, but I didn’t. I wanted to read the book, and with the film coming out, I wanted to read the book before I saw the film. And so I read it this morning in one sitting. I’m not sure whether this was because I couldn’t put it down or rather because by the time I needed to put it down I had nearly finished. So I did finish. And I wasn’t disappointed.
In a way the story is fairly predictable, but then I was brought up on Black Beauty, and anyone who was moved by Captain’s exploits in the Crimean War as told there will find lots of familiar things in Michael Morpurgo’s book. But there is much more. Joey’s story is told from beginning to nearly the end (since he lives happily ever after), but it travels with him through the whole of the Great War, the War to End all Wars. As you see the story from all sides, you realise, if you didn’t before, the stupidity of it all, with people very much like each other coming into Joey’s life in turn, killing each other with ever more deadly technology, all because of their patriotism, when all they really want to do is have simple lives and look after their homes.
It is a skilful book that will bring the history to life for a younger reader, and yet leaves a clearer vision of life in that period to an older, more worldly reader, due to the pictures painted by the author. And if you haven’t read Black Beauty (by Anna Sewell), either at all or for years, do so. There is much in both books that we need to remember and apply to our care of animals and of each other.