When The Guns Fall Silent by James Riordan is a short novella about a young man’s experiences of the World War One trenches, and in particular, the famous incident when both sides chose a cease fire at Christmas and instead of fighting each other, had a football match.
I love books about war, and I have a particular soft spot for children’s books that deal with war. Sonya Hartnett’s The Silver Donkey, Robert Westall’s Machine Gunners, Sandi Toksvig’s Hitler’s Canary and Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole The Pink Rabbit all spring to mind as excellent examples of first rate war novels.
This, sadly is not in that league, or even close.
The story begins in a WWI war cemetery where Jack Loveless takes his grandson Perry to visit the graves of his fallen comrades. While there, they stray over into the German part of the cemetery and meet an old German man and his grandaughter doing the same thing. Jack and Erich met each other during the ceasefire, and their chance meeting opens up the wellspring of Jack’s memories of the time.
This could have been an excellent book. It had so much potential. Sadly very little of it is realised.
The plot framing device is clumsy. It would have been wonderful to use Perry as a focus for getting the reader to connect more with Jack’s story, but apart from the odd sentence interjected here and there, he has little or nothing to do with the plot unfolding at all. It seemed like such a wasted opportunity.
Similarly, the story claims to be about the ceasefire and football match, but this is only touched on lightly in the very last section of the book, and not nearly in depth enough for me. The majority of the book is taken up with Jack’s experiences as a soldier, which is fair enough, except that the book is sold on the understanding that it is really about this particular event, and doesn’t live up to the promise.
The language in the book is not suitable for primary aged children, although the simplicity of the story and straightforward narrative and language means that it would really be better suited to children aged ten to twelve. I couldn’t stock it in my primary school library though, and I wonder if it would be a bit simple for older children.
The story ends very abruptly. You do not hear from Jack’s counterpart, Erich, at all. You do not learn how the story and the meeting affects the two men, or what happens afterwards.
This is really a book of missed opportunities, and it is such a shame that it couldn’t have lived up to its potential.
It is clearly marketed as a boy’s book. It would work well in schools as a topic book for a project on WWI, and will be released to coincide with the WWI centenary next year.