This is not the book to start at 1am, when you'd really quite like to get to sleep, but just want to read a few pages of something- because you then find yourself still awake at 2 am, halfway through and wondering if you should then try to get it finished or really try to get to sleep. But you try to sleep for an hour or so, and then give in and finish the book at 4. No, it's not the book for that.
Loyal Creatures tells the inherently moving story of a young man, Frank Ballantyne, who signs up with his father to join the Light Horse Brigade in 1915. Frank is 16 and too young to legally join up, but he lies about his age, as many young men did.
Jeez, I thought. What if he doesn't take us?
I'd been keeping that worry buried for days on the ride to Sydney. But it was out now. The shameful life ahead of us if me and Dad didn't do our bit. Me dying a lonely old bachelor with no wife and kids. Not even knowing what a girl's skin feels like. Dad getting spat on in the pub and probably no more work.
Frank left school at 11, and has been working around his farming district with his father since, helping him find water and dig bores. He is a great horseman, and has an inseparable bond with his horse Daisy. Frank and Daisy do join the war effort and travel to Egypt by boat, and take part in the desert campaign in Egpyt and Palestine.
Morris Gleitzman wrote Loyal Creatures in the evocative Aussie lingo of the time. It can be a fine line between authenticity and over the top ocker. A few chapters in and I was firmly entranced with his linguistic style.
Egypt was foreign, but the weather was Australian.
Heat and dust. Flies I reckon I'd met before in Dubbo.
I gave Loyal Creatures to Master Wicker after I finished it, and encouraged him to read it, knowing that it was not his usual fare, and as such was a bit of a risk. He started it but found the authentic language difficult, and he didn't finish it. Which is a great shame I think.
Morris Gleitzman tells such an astonishing story in Loyal Creatures. The story of Frank and Daisy was initially created as twenty minute monologue, a performance piece for one actor, created at the request of Michael Morpurgo in 2012 when the stage version of War Horse was about to tour Australia. I saw this performed at the CBCA Conference Dinner at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It was astonishing. As is Loyal Creatures.