Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

A playful, charming, yet striking anti-war novel on the lives of children growing up during the war.

This novel is a follow-through sequel to a prized and beloved trilogy; it is so highly regarded it’s practically a national treasure. Can you guess the novel yet? I’ll offer one word; the Psammead. No? Alright a few more; grumpy, sand fairy and wishes. Yes, that is correct. The Five Children on The Western Front tells us what takes place after all the children from Five Children and It have morphed away from their adolescent selves and are fully fledged adults. Anthea is no longer a naive little girl; she’s at art college, Jane is a nurse, Cyril’s off tending to that awfully impractical First World War and Robert is (a scholar) at Cambridge. The Lamb is no longer a sweet chubby baby, but a mischievous 11 year old, who is always keeping his younger sister, Edith, in check. The two youngest miss their other siblings’ company, especially the magical stories about the queer Psammead, that they were often told.

Except suddenly he is no longer merely the figurehead of far-fetched tales: he surprisingly reappears in their sand pit. It is the perfect excuse to distract the siblings from the gloomy war, yet it turns out that the Psammead is no longer a wish dispensing machine, and he actually has a vaguely serious purpose behind his resurrection in their lives.

I have mixed feelings about the Psammead; sometimes he is a moaning, whining creature, which can get tiresome, whilst on other occasions he is veritably sweet and charming. He has a complex character to say the least; a lot of attitude from such a small being that’s for sure. Through the Psammead, the Lamb and Edith are introduced to the brutal nature of war; they experience it from every point of view- soldiers in trenches, nurses, those left in the country and more. But soon it becomes apparent that the youngest siblings don’t require these adventures to experience the impact of war. Eventually it wriggles it’s talons into the Pemberton’s lives, and brings the reek of sadness with it.

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I admit it. I haven’t read Five Children and It. Yes, it is utterly frustrating, and I really ought to have read it before hand, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. So…despite this slight setback, I loved this novel. I wholeheartedly adored it, for so many different reasons; it preliminarily was simultaneously light hearted, making it an enjoyable fun novel, whilst having also having more serious undertones. I have been enveloped with heavy, hard hitting novels that scream about the outrage of society in general recently, and so it was massively relaxing to be enjoy a more vivacious novel. Having said that, when I was feeling in a more receptive mood, I appreciated the anti-war cries and the solemn messages about character that were being emanated. So this novel essentially can bend itself to your emotional needs. Importantly, it displays a touching account of the war, that is made hugely personal through our connection to not only one, but actually nearly all the characters. Not an easy feat to carry, so I applaud you Saunders. Also, it was impressive to see the story undertake metamorphosis; at first it is bursting with innocence and naivety but soon experience crawls in and before you know it we are struck with aching issues like the cruelty of war. We reach a point that none of the children can return from, not with without shedding the blinds of the innocent. This was executed masterfully; I was so easily engrossed in the story (I read this novel in a day) and I felt like the storyline was unforced and flowed beautifully.

So take a chance, pick up this novel and enjoy a comedic, memorable and above all heart-warming wartime novel. Have any of you read Five Children and It- what are your thoughts on the novel? Have you in fact read that novel and Five Children on the Western Front- which one did you think was better?

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