My eldest son said I should read it, my other half said I should read it, Steven Spielberg seemed to be suggesting I should read it, so I read Warhorse. It’s all right you know. It’s a ripping yarn but I gather the author Michael Morpurgo would point to other books he has written, such as Private Peaceful, as more indicative of his best work.
It must be frustrating for an author to be known but not for the best thing you have done. If you complain about it you seem like an ingrate who just doesn’t know how to accept a compliment. It’s not a bad thing to have something better in your back catalogue for your readers to move on to.
But I can see what Morpurgo means. There are bits of this book where the story lurches forwards in a couple of lines and maybe he would have preferred not to have done that. But maybe taking more time over a couple of the ideas in Warhorse would have made it more of an adult book and that’s not what he does.
It’s set during the First World War and charts the warhorse’s career from farmer’s field to the army and the adventures that follow. It’s an excellent way of introducing kids to a bit of this history without having to grapple with the obscene bodycount statistics of industrialised killing. The point is made however, and a futile cavalry charge is one of the stand-out scenes.
The story is told in the first person through the eyes of the Warhorse in question. This is done very sensibly and crucially doesn’t feel wrong although like all first person novels some of the jeopardy leaks away. It’s also one of the areas where I think a bit more imagination could have turned a narrative necessity into a virtue.
Perhaps Morpurgo missed a chance to write something great by making it a longer book and taking a few more risks, on the other hand perhaps he avoided entanglement in some of the obstacles of a literary no-man’s land by charging through this story at a gallop.
Either way you should read it before you see the film or stageshow. It will only take you a couple of hours and it’s good.