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In the Mouth of the Wolf first caught my eye at work when I was reading Thornhill, a time when I was particularly interested in illustrated books for older readers. This book has an added element of intrigue too – it is biographical, based on the life of the writer’s Uncle during World War Two. Michael Morpurgo is an objectively powerful writer anyway, so I knew I would get something out of the book, even with it being considered a ‘children’s book’.
The story is told by Francis, who on his birthday reminisces about his life – the people he loved, the friends who guided him, the war which tore all he knew apart. He had started the war as a Pacifist, certain in his belief that violence could never be overcome with more violence. But after a tragedy close to home, he decides to enter the war, leaving his family and country life behind.
Headhunted by an old friend, he becomes an English spy, and we learn of his adventures through Morpurgo’s unique style of storytelling. Each chapter looks back fondly upon a different set of memories associated with a different person. The conversational tone of Francis’ narration made me feel like I was privy to something so private: the confused mutterings of a very elderly, tired man.
The illustrations by Barroux fitted perfectly too, adding a softer element to what is otherwise an intense and emotional story.
Morpurgo is obviously very proud of his Uncle’s history. I did notice that the marketing I saw for the book relied heavily on Francis being the relative of a famous writer as a selling point. For me, there was something a little sad in that fact – I thought the story had merit in itself, and I wonder if it would ever have been told if it were not backed by a prominent voice. It made me think of the stories untold because they don’t have a big enough platform; a sobering thought.
Anyway, of course this book is brilliant, and I was teary eyed by the end. Easy to read in less than a day, it is truly a pleasure to experience even the smallest piece of Francis’ life, who clearly made a big difference during the war and has created a legacy that I’m sure generations will be proud of.