Elephant Moon Hardcover – 8 Oct 2012
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'If you were to relocate Michael Morpurgo's War Horse to Burma in the Second World War, with elephants taking the sentimental role from the horses, you might end up with something like Elephant Moon by John Sweeney. It is a tender and loving tribute to 'Nature's great masterpiece... The only harmless great thing', as John Donne described the elephant, as well as an insight into one of the forgotten battlegrounds of the war.' LITERARY REVIEW 'This novel is based on a little-known true story of the Second World War when a herd of 53 elephants was used by a young English schoolteacher to rescue a band of orphans in Burma and transport them to the safety of India. Their incredible journey is filled with adventure, tragedy and love, as you might expect. But, most thrilling of all is the emergence of the elephants as real characters with distinct personalities. This is not done in a sentimental Jungle Book kind of way. Rather, it is true to Darwin's description of these creatures as being possessed of many of the same senses as humans, including the capacity for jealousy, suspicion and revenge. The author - who is also an award-winning Panorama reporter - takes advantage of this phenomenon and scores a bull's-eye with an excellent and ingenious plot.' DAILY MAIL 'A deftly realised on-the-road novel alive with the horrors of war.' YORKSHIRE EVENING POST
About the Author
John Sweeney is a reporter for BBC Panorama. He has won many journalism awards and is the author of five previous books. Elephant Moon is his first novel.
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Grace and sixty-two school children face the mammoth task of reaching India across rivers, jungles, and mountains. As if the landscape didn’t pose enough peril, the group are under the constant threat of Japanese soldiers. When hope seems lost, a herd of fifty-three elephants and their riders appear, also on their way to India, who aid the orphans on their journey. Elephant Moon is based on the true story of the elephant men who rescued refugees in 1942.
The novel presents a different side of the WWII story, one not commonly documented, and provides a good opportunity to learn something new about the war. It portrays an interesting and less-heard perspective, such as the British abandonment of those they colonised. Moreover, the central concept of the elephants aiding orphans safety is appealing, and the descriptions of the elephants is wonderful, particularly Oomy and his mother. Undeniably, this novel has great potential.
However, it was evident that Sweeney is not a natural fiction writer. Award-winning journalist at the Observer and Panorama, Sweeney does build an impressive sense of suspense throughout and illustrates the landscape and war well. However, after a slow start and a crescendo-building middle, the ending is rushed, and like many authors, Sweeney misunderstands the concept of an epilogue (when will they learn what an epilogue is?).
Moreover, his characterisation lacked depth, and most characters fit into good or evil stereotypes. His ability to draw a believable female character was weak, and while Grace should have been portrayed as a powerful female character who sacrificed her own safety to help her class, instead she was a almost parodied goody two shoes whose main attribute seemed to be her ridiculously-often-mentioned attractiveness (pass us a bucket please!).
Sweeney’s best writing skills were displayed in the story of Eddie, where he seemed much more comfortable detailing a male character. Unfortunately, here Sweeney fell into the trap of adding an unnecessary subplot that distracted and detracted from what was a strong enough story on its own. The novel would have been much improved if this subplot had been avoided and Sweeney had focussed his efforts on padding out Grace, the orphans, and the ending, and giving readers more of what they wanted – the elephants!
In general, for a short novel Sweeney tried to take on too much, with the outcome that it seemed disjointed and chaotic (while we mused that this may have been to depict the chaos of war, we found it more likely a result of an undeveloped writing style). There was a lack of depth and focus, and the novel either needed to be longer to cover all of the subjects or shorter and more focused.
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Definitely a good read with many interesting characters, and I really found myself fearing for the safety of Grace and her charges as the threat of capture by the Japanese was never far away.
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