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The Narrow Road to the Deep North


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I finished this book yesterday before going to work and so found myself thinking about it on and off all day. I suspect that it will be a book which will not easily be forgotten. I have now read through all the comments made by other BGO readers and find that I agree with many of them if not all.


Both RG and Kerry seemed to find Dorrigo Evans both distant as a central character and difficult to warm to. I am not sure that I quite agree with this. He is quite a remote character but from a fairly early stage in the book he seemed to be a rather troubled person. He came from a poor family and was trying to find his way and place in the world with very little help or guidance from those around him and so seemed to cut a rather solitary figure from an early age. His planned marriage to Ella was initially based upon her family connections and social standing as much as upon any love he may have felt for her. I felt that his lack of strong family bonds or real structure in his early life caused him to turn into the character he became. His experiences with both Amy and during the war only added to this and he emerged from the war years as a lonely self contained man, as did many of his fellow POWs and Japanese guards. I did not find that this made him any less likable just a little more difficult to empathise with.


I found both the love story with Amy and the way in which his marriage and family life with Ella were dealt with both atmospheric and insightful. Love and family ties have many faces and this book did not seem afraid to deal with such issues. I found it sad that Dorrigo decided that "life just is" and seemed to gain little happiness or contentment at any stage in his life. None of those coming through the war years came out really understanding exactly what it had been about and in all the later stories of the lives of both the former POWs and the Japanese guards their thoughts, actions and feelings were always coloured by their previous experiences.


I found this book both predictable and surprising. I expected to find the accounts of the conditions endured by those working on The Burma Railway harrowing and did so. At times I even wondered if I would be able to carry on reading as the accounts became more and more graphic and upsetting. However, I felt that once started it was a book that deserved to be finished. What I did find surprising were my feelings towards the Japanese guards. As another reader has suggested, they were in some ways treated as victims themselves and although I had to abhor their behaviour this book offered an insight into the beliefs and loyalties which could lead a group of men to behave in such a way.


The one aspect of his book that I did love was the way in which it was written. The descriptive quality of the book was so great that at times I felt that I could almost feel or even taste the settings portrayed. As RG has also stated I doubt that I will read many better books this year. I finished the book feeling glad that I had read it. It is the first Richard Flanagan book I have read but am now considering reading others.

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  • 5 months later...

My last book for 2015, and for me too probably one of the best. I think you certainly have to be in the right frame of mind to read it. It lingered on my bookshelf for some time before I was tempted to take it up even though I knew I wanted to read it. The writing is deeply evocative, I could see and smell the ooze and stench of life in the camps as if I was there myself. I admire the way Flanagan can use his writing to such effect in describing this hellish death camp but equally in detailing his life with and without Amy, (amy, amante, amour, not sure why but that got me every time!) and then his descriptions of the terrifying flight from the bush fire. When I arrived at the end I felt I had seen Dorrigo Evans in the round, his good and bad sides, just as I had see different aspects of the Japanese guards. Excellent book worth a re-read.


I'm not sure if everyone can access this, available now

BBC Radio 4 Open Book with Richard Flanagan



Also this Sunday's Book of the Month on Book Club, available from 2nd Jan 2016


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