Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Town Like Alice (Neville Shute)

This is one of those books that was good to read for book club, or I likely would have never finished it. I found the story quite intriguing, but the way it was presented was never really satisfying. I didn't think there was enough descriptive detail of her experiences in the war, the narrator for the story didn't seem to have enough detail or insight into feelings and experiences, and in the romantic parts, there really wasn't any romance. It was odd. I am not sure if it is because it was first published in 1949, and maybe that was just the style then, or perhaps it is because it is a British author? Not sure. There were unanswered questions too: whatever happened to the little boy she looked after after his mother died? There is no mention of him again. I also found the organization of the story odd. Paragraphs ended in strange places. The story is told by the man who manages the main character's inheritance (surely an unmarried woman couldn't do that herself!) The narration would start up again and it would take me a bit to realize we were jumping back from the story to the narrator's perspective.

The story starts off in the war. A group of women and children are taken captive by the Japanese, only they don't leave them in a prison camp. They don't seem to know what to do with them so they march them for hundreds and hundreds of miles. Many die in the process. The narrator mentions how many have told stories of the atrocities of prison camps, but none have really told the story of those who would have fathered been in a prison camp than marched for months at a time. It is s bizarre, and apparently true story.

The woman comes home to England and after a few years discovers she has been left an inheritance. She decides to return to Malay (Malaysia) to repay some of the kindnesses she received from villagers while marching. From there she decides to go to Australia to see how a man she met in the war has survived, that is, after she discovers he in fact did not die after the Japanese attempted to crucify him.

I really did like the main character in this story: Jean Paget. She is strong and resourceful and willing to work. She is patient and sensible. She becomes a leader everywhere she goes, which I found ate inspiring. I would like to be a woman like her!

I felt like this book took me forever to read. I wasn't taken by the writing style. I really had to force myself to pay attention or I would totally lose track of the story.

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