When I saw that Warhorse was to be made into a film by Spielberg, I knew I must finally get around to reading it. The book has always been on my periphery but for some reason I just never got around to reading it, despite its succinct length. Perhaps through my arrogance I didn’t even realise it was narrated by Joey, the horse that the story is focused upon.
I’m quite the sucker for books about the First World War, and horses, and original approaches to narrative, so Warhorse swiftly appeared on my Christmas list. I was determined to read it before heading to the cinema later this month to see the adaptation, so I ended up reading it in two sittings on Christmas day.
The novel is utterly absorbing and from the opening moments as we meet Joey, a close relationship between reader and horse is created. By giving the central character, Joey, his own voice it makes the reader feel for him at every point of his journey, from country farm to front line France. And every step contains its own pains and dramas which pushes the reader’s emotions greatly.
While one the surface Warhorse appears to be a book about the War and rightly so, but simmering beneath is a wonderful love story of friendship that isn’t at all saccharine, but wonderfully heart-warming. Albert, Joey’s original owner, is the first person to break in Joey as a workhorse. They spend hours in each other’s company and become the closest friends as Albert trusts in his new equine friend and escapes his drunken Father and timid Mother.
Unfortunately the War breaks out and despite being riddled with guilt; Albert’s Father sells Joey to the army. From this moment Joey travels across Europe coming into contact with both allies and enemies. What Michael Morpurgo has done is interweave lots of small intricate stories into one overarching tale of this magnificent horse. Constantly underlying this is a passion of the reader to see Joey and Albert reunited. Every page is full of passion and emotion which culminates in a beautifully rendered dénouement.
Of course, Warhorse is technically a children’s book, but to firmly call it so is a travesty. This book easily spans all ages and communicates not only the horrors of war but the ridiculousness of it all. A further benefit to reading Warhorse is to learn how animals were used and treated during the First World War, as it is often overlooked.
There is a wonderfully touching moment when Joey is roaming no man’s land after being injured and an allied soldier and German soldier meet at his side to determine his fate, and who he will leave with. The two have a brief conversation and deliver some of the best dialogue that concerns the stupidity of war that I’ve ever heard.
In an hour, maybe, or two. We will be trying our best again each other to kill. God only knows why we do it, and I think he has maybe forgotten why. Goodbye Welshman. We have shown them that any problem can be solved between people if only they can trust each other. That is all it needs, no? The little Welshman shook his head in disbelief as he took the rope. ‘Jerry, boyo, I think if they would let you and me have an hour or two out here together, we could sort out this whole wretched mess. There would be no more weeping widows and crying children in my valley and no more in yours.’”
The delivery of these lines sums up Warhorse perfectly. It’s an astounding little gem of a book that will likely stay with me forever. There are plenty of tears to cry throughout, so make sure everyone around you is prepared. I will pass it to my wife for her to read, then I will read it with my children when they are of an age to understand the content. To say that this is a book that everyone should read sounds trite, but Warhorse is exactly that.