June 14th, 2016


Book #24: Traveller by Richard Adams

Number of pages: 377

This book is mostly written in the form of the eponymous Traveller, a horse, telling his history to a cat named Tom. As we find out from his narrative, he was General Robert E. Lee's horse during the American Civil War.

This book caused me to make inevitable comparisons with Black Beauty, except that this is in a wartime setting. The plot isn't as complex as other Richard Adams novels I've read (e.g. Watership Down,Shardik), and the narrative style took a bit of used to, mostly because - as the book is written in the normal style of someone telling a story - Traveller does occasionally deviate slightly from his narrative, mostly to address Tom directly (for example, commenting on how he's going to sleep or catching rats, or comparing his life to a cat's life). Since most of the book is just Traveller speaking, I was only able to get some idea of what Tom maybe thought of the story except from Traveller's reactions; Tom gets no speaking lines.

I enjoyed the idea of seeing a war from a horse's point of view, and as the horses point out quite early on, they don't really see the whole point of it, immediately making a good social commentary on the absurdity of some human behavioural traits. The portrayal of war consists primarily of fights with the Federals ("Blue Men", as Traveller calls them), who seem like some sort of unstoppable force; if they kill one, many more take his place. Although Traveller's narrative might not give you a good feel for the real-life events that the novel is based on, there are regular italicised segments that describe what is happening at this point in the narrative, and where the conflict has reached, and these did feel quite comprehensive.

I also liked the fact that the horses really did seem very much like human soliders in the way that Traveller talked about his relationships with them. I think it was mostly because of the comments on how he couldn't become complacent, as other horses are always shown coming and going, with several killed during the conflict. This reminded me of at least one other war novel that I've read in the past.

I didn't think this was the best Richard Adams book I'd read, but I thought it was enjoyable enough. I may have got more out of it if I knew more about the American Civil War.

Next book: Big God (Orlando Saer)