Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
MisterHobgoblin

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Recommended Posts

Dorrigo Evans is a war hero. Not only did he survive the Burma Railway, he inspired his fellow POWs as they battled for survival on The Line. He is an old man, doing the speaker circuit. Everyone he meets is happy to see him; everyone he meets is awed. Dorrigo is the personification of the Australian establishment.

But rewind to his days of youth; his training to be a doctor; his enlistment in the Army and training outside Adelaide; his life and his loves. Dorrigo started out as a mere mortal; a regular guy with his virtues balanced out by his failings. He has a touch of self-depracating arrogance, but what good doctor doesn't? He seems to have no great ambition and is not driven to enlist through any obvious sense of duty or patriotism. Indeed, based on his early encounters with both friendly and enemy soldiers, he seems to reserve his most withering comments for the British.

Then, the moment makes the man. As he and hundreds of fellow Australians are captured by the Japanese, he finds himself in a slave labour camp, hewing at rock with a hammer and chisel to make way for a supply railway from Siam to Burma. This is the major part of the novel. Richard Flanagan exposes us to the full horror of the conditions and their treatment at the hands of the Japanese officers and Korean guards. It's graphic. But the real interest comes from seeing the human side of the assorted prisoners and their guards. The narrative point of view switches around to give each of the characters a chance to come alive. In a film, the Aussie Diggers would all be strong jawed heroes. But here we see an assortment ranging from the naively energetic; through to the selfishly lazy; a guy learning Mein Kampf by heart; various shades of racism; bullies; jokers; friends. It's a real mixed bag and some of these heroes are not nice people at all.

By the same token, it would have been easy to portray the Japanese as mindless sadists. Sure, they were brutal, but we are given an insight into the values and thought processes that went behind the brutality. Major Nakamura is portrayed almost as a victim himself, forced to deliver the completion of the railway to absurd deadlines with insufficient resources. Whilst he attaches no value to the lives of prisoners, he is concerned only with completion of The Line and duty to his superiors and the Emperor. He has contempt for prisoners of war - it would have been nobler to die in battle - he does not hate them. His crime is one of indifference. His vicious guard, the Goanna, has even less emotional investment in the project and only lives for his pay slip.

The novel follows the post-war lives of some of the characters too - well, those who survive. We see the transition of ordinary people into heroes or villains according to the fortune of their side in the war. We find them largely indifferent to their destiny. Yet Richard Flanagan does not portray their fate as luck. Dorrigo, the hero, has a further chance to prove his mettle which he seizes instinctively. He really is a hero, albeit one who spends most of his time being rather ordinary and rather alone. Perhaps it is the medical training, perhaps it is his complicated life, but Dorrigo bears more than a passing resemblance to Yuri Zhivago.

The themes in the novel are epic; the story is complex but always coherent. But also, the narrative can be light, humorous but it can also be heartbreakingly sad. The scenes are depicted perfectly; the imagery is so right it is like looking at a photograph. The novel may lack some of the tricks and ingenuity of other modern novels and, in a way, it feels a little old fashioned. But it achieves what it sets out to do with perfection. It's a longish novel, but it holds the attention; the reader almost daren't look away.

The next time I buy an ANZAC badge or Legacy torch I will be thinking of Dorrigo and his real life counterparts.

 

*****

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am going to read this book.

Hopefully

One day

Soon

Edited by Clavain

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hurrah for Richard Flanagan who won the Man Booker prize last night.  Good on you Mr HG for such a positive review back in August.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Congratulations,Mr HG,  your Booker drought has finally broken and what an excellent novel to be the one to do so. Very pleased for Richard Flanagan and thought he made a most gracious acceptance speech.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am very pleased for Richard Flanagan. This is a stunning book that was head and shoulders above the others on the longlist. But it is a very strange feeling to have my favourite book win the Booker - the first time in 11 years, I think.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Finished this book last night and it is everything Mr. HG says. I thought it was perfect in its description of the ordinary and the extraordinary and the desperation and hope in both.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i agree completelt with mr hg and blinker. This really an excellent book and very deservant of the booker prize. It is superb.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Have started in on this book again as a member of another forum is interested in discussing it. I'm about a quarter of the way into it and am getting the terrible sense of futility in building the railroad. The writing is so descriptive it pulls you in and it's a relief when there is a change of scene, albeit temporary.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Have started in on this book again as a member of another forum is interested in discussing it. I'm about a quarter of the way into it and am getting the terrible sense of futility in building the railroad. The writing is so descriptive it pulls you in and it's a relief when there is a change of scene, albeit temporary.

 

I think the building of the railway was not futile - I believe it is still in use as the main route through Thailand. The problem that the novel identifies is that the Japanese officers overcommitted in terms of completion dates and as the war went less well, their masters demanded even more, even quicker.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe ultimately it wasn't futile but at the point I was at in the book when I posted it seemed like an impossibility with the lack of tools, the condition of the prisoners, the sickness, the rain, the Japanese commander having to rely on amphetamines just to feel normal enough to continue with his work - it all felt quite bleak.  Now I'm into the obsessive love between Amy and Dorrigo and this part sounds like a steamy love novel although couched in poetic and other-worldly language and in saying this I realize it sounds cynical, however, I have to admit I'm caught up in it.

Edited by momac

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just started this coincidentally, as a result of having seen other members' recommendations.  Only about twenty or so pages in, so no immediate opinion, but must make sure not to read any of the above posts where too much detail resides!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can probably resurrect my instructions of how to use the spoiler function RG. Am almost finished the book which I have been finding overwhelming in parts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This book has so much in it to digest I will have to think about it for a while to try to assemble thoughts about it.  Definitely a book worth reading and thoroughly captivating.  I put it down last night around 11:00 p.m. with the intent of going to bed.  Instead I went back downstairs and read for another hour.  Just finished it about an hour ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some thoughts about the book, not anywhere near as concise as Mr. HG's, but just what came to mind as I was sitting at the computer:

 

 

 

 

Flanagan's writing is extremely powerful and descriptive although his character, Dorrigo, seemed to do quite a bit of philosophizing and the writing gets a little bogged down at times. Events and circumstances seemed to happen to him, for instance, he hadn't planned to be the 'Big Fella' among the Australian prisoners, but being tall and being a doctor, he was the one the prisoners seemed to look up to and he did assume the responsibility of talking to the commander, Major Nakamura, at the camp to get medicine, better conditions, food and rest for the prisoners, often with very little result. In this regard he was the hero although he would be the last to admit to that. The conditions at the camp were brutal, horrifyingly so. The Japanese had no regard for the prisoners and looked down on them, their feeling was that they should have died honourably rather than allowing themselves to be captured. This, of course, didn't stop the Japanese from using them to build the railroad and everyone was required to work whether or not they were injured, sick or not even able to stand, work could still be done while there was still life in the body. The commander was under a time constraint to get the railroad built and was prepared to beat and brutalize the men into performing the work. The conditions in the jungle, the rain, the sickness, the beatings, and the sheer brutality of the guards was dehumanizing and yet the human spirit seemed to survive, men helping other men, looking out for each other and, of course, the laggardly types who marched or rather struggled into the jungle and hid out for the day doing nothing and just showing up at the end of the day for the head count. I found all of this really hard going but it also pointed out what human beings are capable of. The writing is raw and powerful when describing various events in the prison camp and it's hard to read without feeling really depressed about how brutal humans can be.

 

One small part that showed the Japanese in a little different light was the discussion between Major Nakamura, and a visiting dignitary, his immediate superior. They have an evening of discussing Japanese poetry and it portrays them in a gentler manner.

 

Then in contrast we had the prior obsessive love affair between Amy and Dorrigo which was of the steamy love story type writing, mentioning all the differing locations where their intense lovemaking took place. The fact that he had seen her previously in the bookstore with the camelia in her hair and all men were following her around but she only had eyes for Dorrigo almost sounds like something out of 'some enchanted evening'. Added to that she just turns out to be married to his uncle so Dorrigo has an excuse to visit. That was a coincidence which was a bit jarring to me. I'm not sure that it really added anything to the story line except to perceive Dorrigo in a more passionate light, which light became dimmed the longer he had to be in the jungle when he was having difficulty remembering her face.

 

When we see him as an elderly man doing the celebrity circuit he still seems as though he's not sure how this all happened to him. In the meantime he has married Ella although he doesn't love her but it seemed the right thing to do, another circumstance which seemed to befall him. Then we have his dalliance with several women, he in his late 70's still trying to recapture perhaps the passion he had with Amy, but it was puzzling why he continued with the search as he didn't seem to get any pleasure out of it. Ella must have been a long-suffering wife unless she was quite happy that he took his attempted pleasures elsewhere.

 

I found the ending satisfying when he goes to rescue his family from the fire. He has finally found something to cling to after all his dallying around.

 

I'm not sure about reading further books by him if they are as draining.

 

Edited by momac

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting thoughts Momac. Don't be afraid of other Richard Flanagan books - the two I have read were significantly less intense. 

A great book and certainly very intense. Some of the scenes describing the building of the railway are very haunting, I found myself horrified and yet unable to stop reading.Made me look at the recent Gallipoli/Anzac commemorations in a whole new light.

Will certainly read some of his other books.

Edited by Clavain

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have just finished this novel and, as Clavain has noted, it is very haunting.  When I read the chapters describing the life ('life' -  that's a joke) on the Line I could not read more than 30 pages at a time as I felt so involved and haunted by the cruelty, the suffering and the characterisation. 

 

Dorrigo seemed to be more intensively 'alive' in the death camp than in civilian life except of course with his love affair with Amy.  I liked the portrayal of the complexities of the 'heroic' man.  And that applies to Nakamura too. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello Ian K - welcome to BGO, hope you enjoy being here, tell us a bit about yourself, what you like to read etc.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I seem to have completely stalled on this book.  Got about 65 pages in but it was simply not engaging me.  Something I found a little off-putting was the fact that Dorrigo Evans is constantly referred to AS Dorrigo Evans, rather than just Dorrigo, somehow for me distancing the character from me as a reader.  Does that make sense?  Also found that none of the conversational aspects appeared in quotation marks, just as a part of the text, so it was not always obvious (well to me at least) that someone was supposed to be saying something; there was no noticeable change in the text.

Maybe I was not in the right frame of mind for this one when I started it, I had not picked it up in a few days having reached page 65 or so, and when I did pick it up again last night I went back over about the previous twenty pages and none of it registered at all!

 

Perhaps I will try something else for now and come back to this one later.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I seem to have completely stalled on this book.  Got about 65 pages in but it was simply not engaging me.  Something I found a little off-putting was the fact that Dorrigo Evans is constantly referred to AS Dorrigo Evans, rather than just Dorrigo, somehow for me distancing the character from me as a reader.  Does that make sense?  Also found that none of the conversational aspects appeared in quotation marks, just as a part of the text, so it was not always obvious (well to me at least) that someone was supposed to be saying something; there was no noticeable change in the text.

Maybe I was not in the right frame of mind for this one when I started it, I had not picked it up in a few days having reached page 65 or so, and when I did pick it up again last night I went back over about the previous twenty pages and none of it registered at all!

 

Perhaps I will try something else for now and come back to this one later.

Totally agree and felt a little the same but persevere you will not regret it.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Eventually gave up on it for now but do intend to come back to it when perhaps I can dedicate a little more time to getting "proper" stuck into it!  All comments about this book tend to suggest it's worth reading, just might not have been the right moment for me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm in the minority here. Didn't care for the book or the main character. Also, I was not very receptive to reading another story about a Japanese POW camp after Unbroken.

Edited by Kerry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm in the minority here. Didn't care for the book or the main character. Also, I was not very receptive to reading another story about a Japanese POW camp after Unbroken.

 

I'm not sure Richard Flanagan was fishing in the same pond as Laura Hillenbrand (the author of Unbroken). If anything, it is books like Unbroken that Flanagan was reacting against in portraying an accidental and flawed hero. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Finished this a few days ago, having re-started it on the advice and encouragement of other BGOers, and I am glad that I did go back to it.  I really must have been in the wrong frame of mind when I first picked it up and then abandoned it around 60 pages in, as when I started it afresh hardly anything at all of those pages resonated with me; it was simply as though I had never read them!

Anyway.....my initial irritation with the use of Dorrigo Evans' full name all the way through the novel remained with me.  It was almost as if Mr Flanagan wanted to make sure I didn't confuse him with any other Dorrigos who may happen to wander into the story, and it continued to make me feel somewhat distanced from the character, but perhaps that is what Flanagan was aiming for, as Dorrigo (Evans) came across as an essentially lonely and detached individual, particularly in his non-wartime life.

Pre-war I thought the description of the developing love story between Dorrigo (Evans) and Amy was very atmospheric, from their first encounter among the dust motes in shafts of sunlight in the old book store to the continuing, forbidden, relationship in what felt to me as a reader like a very sultry environment. It always felt like a love story that was doomed not to achieve a happy conclusion, and so it proved ultimately.

 

I found it quite hard to warm to Dorrigo (Evans) as a central character.  He seemed to be more mentally alive when he was least physically alive, trying to survive and to help others survive in the hell-hole that was working on The Line.  The descriptions of the surroundings, the conditions in which they were forced to live, the illness, the beatings etc. were truly harrowing and once again with anything of this nature I found myself wondering if or how I might have fared....not well I guess. It was during this period that Dorrigo (Evans) displayed his heroic qualities, but I did find him to be less than heroic in other aspects of his life, most particularly I would say in his faithfulness to any woman, although I suppose that was because any other woman wasn't Amy.

 

What I also found interesting was the Japanese perspective of what was happening in Siam.  Whilst there is no doubting the brutality of the situation, for the Japanese commanders it was simply viewed as a necessity in order to achieve the Emperor's orders, that was all that mattered and it was of no consequence to them how that goal was attained.  Failure was not an option, it was all about honour for them and failure would only result in one way out for them as they saw it.

The POWs were seen merely as a resource, and they were viewed with contempt by the Japanese anyway for having allowed themselves to be taken prisoner, so they were not thought to be honourable themselves.

 

Away from the time and horrors of The Line, which I thought ended quite surprisingly abruptly, I found some of the accounts of the post-war lives of the POWs we had met there extremely moving.  Some dealt with return to "normal" life better than others, all returned to a life that had changed in the time they had been away, some returned to find previous loves now with different, new loves.  I am not ashamed to say that I shed a tear at the fate of Jimmy Bigelow's bugle; it had meant so much to him in the horrors of The Line, finding in his playing of it when laying comrades to rest some meaning and purpose, and I just found it immeasurably poignant that, after his passing, it ended up being sold for a few dollars in a garage sale of his bric-a-brac.

 

It was also interesting to learn of the post-war lives of the Japanese that we had encountered in the jungle.  They too were to return to a very different country than that which they had left behind, a country which had been defeated above all, and was now in a ravaged state. Over the years, however, their belief in what had taken place during the war never wavered.

 

I suspect that, having re-visited and finished this book, it may well turn out to be one of my best reads of 2015.  I can see why Kerry posted that she wasn't keen on Dorrigo (Evans) but overall I thought this was a very good book indeed; the further into it I got the more I found it hard to put down.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

  • Similar Content

    • By MisterHobgoblin
      The Bridge is a heartbreaking novel about tragedy and survival; about guilt and forgiveness. 
       
      The opening chapter depicts the construction disaster in 1970 when a slab of Melbourne's Westgate Bridge collapsed, killing 35 workers and injuring 18 others. Antonello, an Italian migrant from Footscray was a survivor. Many of his friends, new Australians mostly, were not so lucky. We see the families that were destroyed; the hopes that were dashed. As Antonello attends a succession of funerals over a few days, they blur into one. But some of the dead, now just names on a plaque, were real people who are still missed by the ageing survivors. And Antonello can't help feeling that he knew that corners were being cut. The engineers said it would be OK, but Antonello knew deep down that they were wrong. 
      Thirty nine years later Antonello's family is doing well. His kids have firmly entered the middle class as the Western suburbs start to gentrify. Antonello's granddaughter Ashleigh is in her final year at school - just the VCE standing between her and a prestigious university place studying law. 
       
      Her friend Jo is rather the opposite. Not that academic, a bit plain, living with her mother who works shifts to pay the rent on a house in the shadow of the bridge that defies gentrification. 
       
      A night out, a poor decision, and life will never be the same again. The decision is spur of the moment but the consequences unfold piece by piece. Nobody meant anything bad to happen, but there's a price to pay. Just like Antonello so many years beforehand, the survivors have to learn to live with themselves, their guilt and their grief. They have to plan for a future from a suddenly unpromising starting point. 
       
      The story shifts points of view several times but manages to carry this off. It gives us an insight into the guilt and grief of two families confronting unwelcome reality. It is painful to read, it feels real and raw. The linking of the past and (almost) present is done so effortlessly, the parallels clear but not laid on too thick. 
       
      The sense of place is spot on too. The Bridge is one of those rare books that depicts the scenes so clearly that you want to visit the scene, to pay respects to tragedies both real and imagined. 
       
      It is difficult to say more without spoiling the novel - but even a fortnight later, thinking back on this novel is enough to bring on goosebumps. 
       
      *****
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      Scrublands is first rate crime fiction set out in the scrublands north of the Murray river on the NSW/Victoria border. 

      Martin Scarsden is a journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald, sent out to Riversend to cover the first anniversary of a mass shooting (pun intended) where the priest had shot five parishioners on a Sunday before being shot himself by the local policeman. Scarsden finds a town with a dwindling population, the pub/hotel shut six months ago, the motel barely surviving and the only coffee in town is served at the second hand book shop. Dust and tumbleweed blow through the town. 

      And as Scarsden picks at the scabs left by the shooting, he uncovers a plot of intrigue and lies. Nobody is quite who or what they seem. The ripples spread far and wide - down to the Murray, to Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Cambodia and Vietnam. As the stories start to emerge, and as they start to contradict one another, the stakes get higher. 

      The plotting is tight and relatively easy to follow for a twisty thriller. The characters feel real even if they do labour under Dickensian names (the femme fatale is Mandalay Blonde; the villain is Harley Snoutch; the bombastic TV journalist is Doug Thunkleton. The police investigation is credible; as the body count rises so too does the national attention from both journalists and senior law enforcement. The actions even in this abnormal situation seem rational and proportionate. 

      The sense of place works well too. Riversend feels real - and reminds me quite a lot of Karakarook in Kate Grenville's The Idea of Perfection. The searing heat and desiccation, the vast wilderness, the distance. 

      The only shortcoming was a sense that, just occasionally, the novel was too long and slightly repetitive. But in answer of the criticism, the repetition did a good job of helping the reader keep the many moving parts neatly arranged. 

      This is an accomplished work and it will be fun to see whether Martin Scarsdale returns.
       
      *****
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      If you are fascinated by the bed-hopping habits of students then this is the book you have been waiting for!

      Connell and Marianne are from Carricklea, a fictional town in Sligo (not the fashionable end of Ireland). Marianne lives in the big house with her mother. At school, she is ostracised for being weird – perhaps because she is rich, perhaps because her father is dead. Perhaps because she is clever. 

      Connell is from the regular side of town. His father is also gone; his mother Lorraine works for Marianne’s mother as a cleaner. Connell is also clever, but he seems to have kept this hidden from his friends. Connell is popular and able to get dates with pretty much anyone he wants – even the most popular girl in school. 

      Connell and Marianne have a clandestine relationship that Connell tries to deny is actually a relationship, and Marianne seems to be grateful for any company she can get, regardless of the terms. 

      Each chapter moves the clock forward by a few weeks or a few months and the pair disappear off to Dublin to go to university. Dublin’s a different place altogether and Marianne’s wealth and intelligence bring ready acceptance into the beautiful people. Connell, meanwhile, is the poor bogtrotter who struggles to find his niche.

      Then, like a Russian novel, these two friends drift in and out of one another’s lives and in and out of one another’s beds. In between their brief periods of togetherness, we tick off heaps of social issues that are of great importance to undergraduates: academic pressure; prizes and scholarships; abusive older boyfriends; parties; finding the next drink…

      I suppose the theme of the novel is about social class and power imbalances. How in youth, fitting in is about reaching downwards whereas in adulthood it is about aspirations and reaching upwards. It’s like Bill Gates used to say: be nice to nerds because one day you’ll work for them. And associated with class, you have the urban/rural divide with the Dublin Jackeens ruling the roost, only admitting those from the big houses into their midst. But at the same time, there is a hollowness to this belonging. The sacrifices you have to make to your integrity as you adapt to fit in will ultimately lead to hollow feelings. 

      This is a novel that could happily have been written twenty, thirty years ago. Things don’t change. But people do – and a novel that might have seemed wonderful and insightful in my own youth now looks trivial. Student relationships were only ever interesting if you were in them. You always remember your first love, but then life happens. And life is more interesting. 
       
      ***00
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      Warlight is a story of espionage and intrigue, set in London in two distinct time spaces: the 1940s and 1959. 

      In the 1940s narrative, Nathaniel, his sister Rachel and their parents have survived the war. Surviving the peace will not be so easy. First Nathaniel’s father leaves to work in Asia, and then his mother disappears. He and Rachel are brought up in the family home by a revolving cast of strange men who seem to drift around the edges of the criminal underworld. There are shady dealings with greyhounds and furtive nocturnal sailings up and down the Thames in a mussel barge. Nathaniel is at the transition from boy to man; he works in kitchens, sows wild oats and charms the various oddballs who hang around with his guardians. Until, one evening, this strange world collapses in on itself. 

      Moving to the 1959 section, Nathaniel is older and works for one of the government security agencies. This gives him an opportunity to investigate some of the mysterious events of the 1940s. In particular, we discover what happened to Nathaniel’s mother and her relationship with the curiously named Marsh Felon, the son of a thatcher who had worked on her roof many years previously.

      For the first half, the reader is happy to go along with it all to see where it leads. Then, early in the second half, something goes awry. The point of view moves away from Nathaniel and somehow everything seems less immediate, less convincing. Nathaniel’s mother behaves inexplicably. Even when the explanation is attempted, it is inexplicable. As each character is explained in turn, the fundamental driving direction weakens more and more. It comes as no great surprise to the reader to discover that they everyone is a spook, but it is never clear how or why any of them became involved in espionage in the first place – or what they did while working as spies.

      The evocation of an atmosphere is well done if somewhat clichéd. I mean, was the whole of the 1940s foggy? Were the streets really full of spivs that would embarrass Private Walker from Dad’s Army? Did spies really behave quite so – er – mysteriously? 

      The good outweighs the bad in Warlight. The first half and more is really compelling. The frustration is that the switch from intriguing to boring is quite sudden and quite irreversible. By the very end, with a greyhound nuzzling Nathaniel’s hand, there is an overwhelming sense that section after section has been added to get the wordcount up, but without any sense of whether it was actually adding to the story – which in a story-led novel is a problem. 

      Three and a half stars rounded down.
       
      ***00
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      The literary fiction caravan comes to Neasden. Previously known only for the ashen-faced Ron Knee, Sid and Doris Bonkers and Private Eye (see p. 94); we find ourselves in a council estate following multiple points of view within a diverse community. 
       
      At first it looks as though it is going to be all about youth with Yusuf, Ardan and Selvon - but we also find other voices: Nelson, a Windrush generation man and Caroline, a refugee from the Troubles in the north of Ireland. The difficulty I had was in separating the different characters.
      The youths, in particular, were interchangeable. One was a rapper - although I tended to forget this between references to rapping; one was apparently sporty; a couple of them were the sons of the former imam. But I couldn't tell you which was which. And they didn't seem to do much more than play football and eat at the chicken shop. One of them had an interest in a girl, I think. Nelson (who spoke in patois) and Caroline (who spoke in pretty convincing Belfast vernacular) were easier to pick, but their stories seemed somehow removed in both time and place. 
       
      There seemed to be a lot of action off camera. There had been the murder of a British soldier; there were areas cordoned off by police tape, there were crowds in the distance. But it was never quite clear what was going on or whether time was linear. Caroline's story, most of which took place in and around Belfast, was quite opaque and I had to keep flicking back and forth to see whether I had missed something - invariably I hadn't. 
       
      There were some elements of the plot, such as it was, that really didn't ring true. I didn't believe the Belfast story and couldn't see what Caroline had done that would have led to her forced exile; I didn't believe in the way Claude - a radical West Indian - would have treated Nelson; and I didn't believe that someone could be radicalised just after a single conversation with a scary new imam. I certainly didn't believe in the fire. Or the epilogue, which I thought was twee to the point of undermining the supposed force of the rest of the novel.
       
      I guess the point the novel was trying to make was that every generation had its rebels and radicals; that they age and their crusades fade away; and therefore the current Islamophobia is probably a passing phenomenon that will be supplanted by something else in due course. And that's a viewpoint to which I would subscribe. I just didn't think this rather jumbled novel quite succeeded in providing new insight on the subject. 
       
      **000
×
×
  • Create New...