14 May 2015

Book

Since I took early retirement from the wonderful world of secondary school teaching, I haven't read half as much as I imagined I would. There have been oodles of spare time and in that sense no real excuse for not reading. But often I just haven't been in the mood for it.

It has taken a good while to do but I have just finished reading "The Narrow Road to The Deep North" by Richard Flanagan. It was the winner of last year's prestigious Man Booker Prize.

The book tells the story of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted partly by a wartime love affair with his uncle's wife but mostly by his awful experiences in the jungles of western Thailand where he was involved with hundreds of other prisoners of war in the construction of the infamous Thai-Burma railway. Post war, he finds his growing celebrity as a war hero at odds with his sense of his own failings and guilt.
Little wooden crosses on a ledge in Hellfire Pass
Taking its title from  a seventeenth century haiku by Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, the novel is epic in form and chronicles an Australian century,  encompassing the post war lives of Japanese and Korean prison guards as well as Australian prisoners of war. Flanagan explores the effects of war, considers various forms of love and  ultimately investigates what it means to be a human being caught up in the worst terrors of warfare and self-doubt.

It is a very well-written novel and perhaps it's my own fault that I found Dorrigo Evans a hard character to like or even to believe in. There are really gripping passages about prison camp experience but sometimes I found the text unnecessarily verbose. arguably self-indulgent and occasionally frustrating as it switched from past to future and back again.

Nevertheless, I am glad that I chose to read it. When I was in Thailand I visited the remains of the Burma railway, walked upon the new Bridge on the River Kwai, paid homage to the dead at the military cemetery in Kanchanaburi and visited the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum near a cutting that was hewn from bare rock by malnourished prisoners of war - many of them unfortunate Australians. It was an extremely dark chapter in the history of the twentieth century and another terrible reminder of the wickedness that war will so often bring to the surface.
Hellfire Pass, Thailand. A tree has grown in the railway cutting where once
prisoners of war chipped away at the base rock with their bare hands.

22 comments:

  1. I have this book on my list of one to read. I have and have read Flanagan's "The Sound of One Hand Clapping"...and it's brilliant.

    That's a wonderful photo of Hellfire Pass.

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    1. If you like Flanagan's style of writing I am sure you will like "The Narrow Road to The Deep North" Lee. Just nip round to my house and you can borrow it. Do you take sugar in your tea? Remember to wipe your feet when you come in.

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    2. Okay...the pot on, Yorky...pot of tea, that is! No...I don't take sugar in tea or coffee, thanks. I can leave my feet at home, if you prefer! :)

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    3. Sorry. I didn't realise you were an amputee! How tactless of me.

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  2. It sounds worth a look but is probably a bit too literate for me. Book prize winners seem to be.

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    Replies
    1. You might be right Adrian. Stick to "Noddy Goes to Toyland" and "Macro Photography for Beginners"! (Only kidding!)

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    2. It's £3.66p on Kindle but reading the reviews I'll wait a while. I still haven't finished Twelve days a Slave and that was only £1.40p, mind it's boring as hell, too boring for me to fall asleep with.

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    3. You'd probably be better off with some bawdy light porn such as "Confessions of a Window Cleaner" or "What The Butler Saw".

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  3. I am just towards the end of this book at the moment and I agree with you entirely...and in my head I couldn't decide if he was Dorry-go or Doreeeeego....

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    1. Libby -Leeds United used to have an Australian player called Tony Dorigo and the pronunciation of his name was closest tu your second option. I am glad to learn I am not alone in having some misgivings about this book.

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  4. It sounds like a tough subject and kind of a tough read. Though I do read books about the Tudor era, now that was a tough period too.

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    1. The Dissolution of the Monasteries? Twas a breeze Terra.

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  5. I know this sounds so gay
    But
    I just love that carpet

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    Replies
    1. John Lewis (i.e. Cole Brothers)

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  6. I know very little about the places and events described in the book, and I don't think it is one I am likely to be reading any time soon. But I know what you mean about being glad you chose to read it when at the same time you can not relate to the main character.

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    1. I don't think that Flanagan intentionally made Dorigo Evans a slightly unappealing character, not one you could easily side with.

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  7. Richard Flanagan's books are not for everyone and he has a definite style which takes some getting used to; this is a book which I may read some day. His father was a prisoner of war and this became the basis for the story. My most-liked Richard Flanagan story is Gould's Book of Fish which I 'read' as an audio book and loved it but it is a strange fantastic tale set in penal colony Australia.

    Ms Soup

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    1. It's the first I have read Alphie. I knew about his father's experience and it was an interview with Flanagan on BBC Radio 4 that made me buy the book.

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  8. My goodness! I hadn't noticed until I read John Gray's comment, but my carpet/square/rug is almost identical to the one shown in your picture both in pattern and colours!!!!

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    Replies
    1. We have style and taste...and a few dollars/pounds too.

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