I was keen to read something by Richard Flanagan after seeing him on a documentary about Paul Kelly! I wasn’t disappointed his writing is beautiful. He writes about Australians and Australia without sentiment (the word strueth wasn’t used at all!)
Plot summary …
What would you do if you saw the love of your life, whom you thought dead for the last quarter of a century, walking towards you?
Richard Flanagan’s story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho’s travel journal, The Narrow Road To The Deep North is about the impossibility of love. At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds.
This novel is confronting. Malnutrition, disease and brutality are all depicted. The narrative is told from various perspectives and this does mean the inhumane treatment of the POWs is more understandable. The novel is about the human spirit – what it can endure, but also what it can inflict. There is love in many guises – for family, for friends, for fellow human beings, for literature and romantic love (although – spoiler alert! – the woman Dorrigo loves is not his wife). This is a complicated story that requires concentration from the reader – the characters are complex and flawed, the narrative shifts around in time (however, it is always nice to know in advance that the hero survives the POW camp).
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