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Review: ‘Private Peaceful’

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The first of three book reviews for Remembrance Day, Krissi Hill writes about Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

Technically, this is a children’s book, but for those of you who have somehow missed the wonder of Morpurgo it is certainly a welcome break from the over-worded gobbledegook of academics.

Although I tended to favour his more fantastical books – because I was convinced in the existence of magic and eagerly awaited my letter from Hogwarts (the owl must have got lost in the wind) – Morpurgo is most famous for his war novel, turn stage-show, turn TV Film, War Horse. Heart-wrenching and full of suspense this is certainly a great book, but, for me, it will always be Private Peaceful.

The Peaceful brothers live a very peaceful life on a farm. They have their fair share of drama – falling trees, girlfriend issues, an older brother with learning difficulties – but faced with WWI all these petty problems dissolve. Dutifully, Charlie and Tommo sign up to fight for their country on the outbreak of war.

Credit: National Theatre
Credit: National Theatre

Once on the Western Front reality kicks in. The excitement has gone. It is no longer an adventure. Instead of cheering the brothers for their courage you are left anxious and permanently tearful in the wake of shelling, fire, and the dreaded space of “no man’s land”.

This was the first book to make me cry – opening the floodgates for Little Women, Narnia, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Northern Lights, and too many others. It is partly for this reason that it remains one of the most memorable books I have read, but its injustice and the sheer waste of life is sure to stay with you for a long time.

Reading it 12 years on, I still found myself walking around the house tear-stained and sobbing to the bemusement of my house mates. In this book, Morpurgo, perhaps one of the nicest and most unassuming of men in his mauve corduroy trousers (he would be the best Grandad ever), has exposed the plight of the young men of 1914 in a way that cannot fail to ignite sympathy in his readers.

In remembrance of the boys, who could have been sitting here, lounging in pyjamas and skipping lecture, but were fighting in the trenches, read Private Peaceful. It will be two hours you won’t regret.

(5 stars)

Krissi Hill

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