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Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written something here.  Not sure where all the time has gone, but among other things, I’ve been cooking for dinner parties.  Most recently, a mini-quiche party.  The girls like them for lunch too.  I am really into whizzing things in with the pastry (still can’t believe how much better pastry is when made in a food processor and not a blender).  These Camembert quiches have sun dried tomato mixed into them, and there is dill mixed in with the smoked salmon ones.

quiche#

This weekend, I helped out on a Duke of Edinburgh’s expedition.  It rained a lot on the first day, but was also sunny, (one of the students spotted a double rainbow! although you can’t see it here)

rainbow

and I was really lucky to be stationed on a hill with a great view during the sunshine.  It was encouraging to see so many bees and butterflies feasting on all the flowers.

fields

poppies

thistle.JPG

While waiting around for groups to arrive, I managed to read the whole of Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Man Booker Prize winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North.  With its heavy going subject matter of the Japanese treatment of Australian prisoners of war in the “Death Railway” camps, I’d been putting off reading this for a while.

It was much easier to get into than I thought it would be, as it begins by looking back on the trauma as something in the past, including also non-war childhood, adolescent and adult based reminiscences of the hero, Dorrigo Evans, and is written in a softly lyrical style.  But then the periods of taking the reader back to the camps become longer, until we are stuck there, just like the prisoners were stuck there.  Strangely, the style retains much of its tenderness, as the relationships between the prisoners, taking care of each other as best they can, even while gravely sick, are described.

We get into many different characters’ heads, and I think this omniscient narrator style suits the book’s subject matter and aims.  Without wishing to take anything away from this novel’s achievements, I think it is a novel that doesn’t have any great artistic aim, but which passionately wishes to preserve in its readers’ minds the sufferings and endurance of the men, and how it affected them in the years afterwards in ways that could never be extricated or healed.

This portrait was made deeper by the inclusion of the same portraits of the Japanese and Korean camp guards, illustrating the effects of the systematic brutalisation of the Japanese war machine, and I found the political points observed regarding what was ignored and what was condemned afterwards by the victors very illuminating.

One of the Australian characters, Rabbit Hendricks, captures the conditions in the camp in secret drawings, which are saved and later published as a book, and I feel that the novel has many parallels with this.  There’s nothing groundbreaking about any of the plot or narrative devices used, and indeed, many of them verge dangerously on the hackneyed.  One of the, the one with Dorrigo’s brother Tom, actually goes well over the top, and the novel could have done without it, but overall, it just about stays within the boundaries of OK-ness. The point is not cleverness, or newness, but that these men experienced a scarring we can’t even imagine, and we should understand and remember the whys of the happenings and the whys of the afterwards, always.

 

 

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7 Comments

  1. I was literally only thinking of you earlier today! Glad you’re well and have been keeping busy. Your quiches look yum, and lots of lovely pics of flowers. Nice to hear from you 🙂

    • Thanks, Reneé, I hope everything is good with you! Keeping very busy – apart from the things I mentioned, I’ve taken on a load of extra school governance. I’m sure life is keeping you occupied too, still love your blog. xx

  2. To say I enjoyed this book wouldn’t be accurate but I found it deeply moving and affecting. One that stays in the memory long after the last page is finished.
    Lovely to see you Denise – everyone seems to be taking a blogging break at the moment – WordPress is very quiet. Well done you on getting involved with the DofE – an immense task for all those taking part. Your inventive cookery looks delightful!

    • I thought it was a book that will stay in the memory. There was something about the such everyday tasks we take for granted were all described in such detail.
      I’m missing your blog! Also, Hattie’s elephant mug has become something of a favourite in our house – I think it’s something to do with its size and how much drink it holds 🙂

  3. My grandfather fought the Japanese in PNG during the war. I published an interview my cousin had with him before he died on my blog about his experience. I’m on my phone and can’t easily get the link now but it was a dreadful place to be sent.

    I love the photos, especially the one with the poppies in the foreground and the rolling hills behind.

    • I thought of you and your garden when I saw the bees.
      I’ve just gone to your blog and found the interview with your grandfather. Those conditions sound atrocious. Reading about the starved Japanese reminds me of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, in which a poetry loving boy is forced to become a pilot for the Japanese and goes through those brutalising conditions. I’m glad your grandfather was part of the side with the better supplies, and of course he was so lucky with those near misses.

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