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cherrypie

H.E.Bates
The Purple Plain

3 posts in this topic

This is the fourth book by this author that I have read, excluding The Larkin novels of course, and my admiration for him is just growing and growing.  If I was pushed I think that I would have to say that of the four this one may well be the best.  It certainly reduced me to tears on more than one occasion!  I found it to be virtually unputdownable, if there is such a word which I seriously doubt, and finished it almost out of breath myself.

 

The book is based in Burma in 1943 and on the back of the book it states that it is about three men, Carrington, the young navigator, Blore, a flabby and frightened officer and Forrester, a pilot embittered by the death of his wife in the blitz, who are all aboard an RAF plane when it is forced to crash-land.  What it does not tell you is that this only describes the second part of the book.  

The story is told by Forrester and although I would not necessarily describe the novel as a stream of consciousness novel at times in the book we are privy to his every thought.  

 

The first half of the novel leads the reader up to the fateful flight and the reader follows a couple of life changing days in the life of Forrester.  At the beginning of the book Forrester hates just about everyone and just wants it all to be over.  However thanks to Harris, the squadron doctor, he changes from a man that just wants to die to one that will do almost anything humanly possible to stay alive.  The back of the book also says that the book will haunt you not just for it's suspense but also for it's portrayal of the three men.  I would have to say that in my opinion, for once, this description is not an over exaggeration.

 

The most wonderful thing about this book for me is the beauty and strength of the human spirit and the lengths to which, when pushed to their limit and beyond, individuals are prepared to go not just for themselves but for the sake of  others which the book portrays.  There are many wonderful characters apart from the main three, Harris the doctor, Burke an Irish nurse with a blistering temper, Miss Macnab a missionary and Anna a young Burmese girl who has marched across Burma from Rangoon with Miss Macnab and up to 500 others only to be one of the few to survive, mentions just a few of them.  They all add to the overall impression of the human race trying to survive and find hope and comfort in the most trying of circumstances.

 

The book also tells us a lot about our need for one another and the desperate affects of and fear of being alone.  Just being needed to help others enables the human race to continue almost beyond human indurance when if we were trying just for ourselves we may well give up much sooner.  I found this element of the book very humbling.  RG and I saw the film of Dunkirk earlier this week and after the film he said that he was not sure that such an operation could take place today as we are so insular these days and many are less willing to help others.  I sincerely hope that he is wrong but have to say that this book left me with a similar feeling.  My only hope is that "if push came to shove" we would find a way.

 

I found this to be a wonderful book and suspect that I will not read many as good this year.  I would highly recommend it.

 

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It's many, many years since I read this but your review has brought it back to me. Never read a book by Bates I've not liked. 

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This was a particularly heart wrenching read.  Mr. Bates has a way of drawing the reader right into the situation by his very descriptive and armospheric prose.  The first several pages had me identifying with the hopelessness and anger of Forrester. From there Forrester's personality evolves with the intervention of Dr. Harris who has been concerned with Forrester's behaviour although this is not made clear until later in the story.  The greatest change to Forrester comes when he meets Anna, which becomes a life-changing event.  This book, to me, is not really about the war rather than about the fallout suffered by the people affected by the former occupation by the Japanese.  It is about courage and human decency in intolerable circumstances.  The very last few lines of the book came as a relief to me, as the journey to safety was harrowing.  It's not to say I didn't like the book, it was really well written, just not to me a comfortable read.

 

P.S. Nothing really to do with the story, but the publishers duplicated about 2 or 3 chapters which had me puzzled for a few minutes until I saw the page numbers.:hmm:

Edited by momac

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