Michael Morpurgo: Not Bad for a Bad Lad
Michael Morpurgo's website.
There a couple of authors about whom I lose all sensible distance when I pick up their books, and Michael Morpurgo is one of them. Add to this the fact that I am really quite silly about the Suffolk Punch, which my mother can remember being used on the family farm, and you have a recipe for me to start blethering on in a totally uncritical manner.
Not Bad for a Bad Lad follows the model Morpurgo used in Farmer's Boy, where a grandfather tells his grandson about his history. Both books are stories of problems overcome, and recounted from a position of reasonably serene old age. The hero of Bad Lad starts off loud and boisterous, is labelled trouble at school, and continues in trouble until his burgling career goes wrong and he is put in Borstal (Borstal being a precursor of the Young Offender Institution, with the emphasis being on redemption through work). The Suffolk Borstal the hero is sent to, at Hollesley Bay, also happens to be home to the last remaining stud of Suffolk Punch horses. Our hero is intrigued by the horses, and sure enough, the obvious happens, and through the love of a good horse his life is turned around.
Being Michael Morpurgo, this process is not a sentimental wallow. He writes a good horse, and a realistic villain. Although the horses do set the bad lad on the path of righteousness, he is cast adrift when he emerges from Borstal, and becomes homeless. A chance encounter with army horses in a park later, and his life is set fair. The process isn't sugar sweet: his relationship with his mother never does recover. Although he does marry, his wife says:
"Sometimes she says I still love Dombey more than I love her, which is not true. But it's a close thing."
The book is that rearest of creatures, an illustrated book aimed at someone who's older than five. I suppose this is only justified because Morpurgo is such a major seller: it's illustrated throughout in colour by Michael Foreman. I am not the hugest fan of his horses, which are a tad too stylised for my tastes, but the people and backgrounds perfectly capture the story.