Wednesday, 10 December 2014

30 days of books for christmas - the narrow road to the deep north

Richard Flanagan's award winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North is not an easy read. A love story of sorts, it follows the trajectory of surgeon Dorrigo Evans, who becomes a POW on the Burma Railway. Horrific beatings, illness and the brutal day-to-day life for this group of Australians is unrelenting and disturbing - so much so that I took a break for a week in the middle. I felt guilty having to put it down, especially knowing our real-life POWs didn't have that option, but it's an incredibly confronting novel and I think anyone who has read it will understand.

It's been an interesting time to read Flanagan's work as I've been researching for a story based on my dad in 1940s Melbourne. His own father was a doctor on the hospital ships and had three significantly lucky escapes - steaming out of Singapore just before it fell to the Japanese (which would have seen him a POW); his ship being unable to dock at Darwin Harbour due to an industrial dispute and having to go elsewhere (the harbour was later bombed), and when he was meant to transfer to the Centaur, but didn't at the last minute - it, too, was bombed and he lost some dear friends as a result.

That same toss of the coin is apparent in Flanagan's novel - the prisoners' lives brought to an end by a scratch resulting in ulcers, someone else's folly sparking a beating of an innocent man, walking past a former lover in an unexpected setting. Flanagan weaves his threads in and out of the pages, drawing up the loose ends as the novel comes to a close. It's magic, really, and a tribute to the many years he has spent honing his craft. A must read.

Have you read The Narrow Road to the Deep North? What did you think?

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