Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North finds its voice in haunting, stark prose and the deeply personal story of a POW on the Burma death railway his father was a survivor of.
From the opening pages Flanagan surges across generations and lands, with the confidence only a truly great author can conjure. Dorrigo Evans is a surgeon in a Japanese POW camp where the boundaries of hell are blurred with every passing day. Skeletons are the men he attends to, often finding them beyond his care. Yet he is most haunted by the illicit love he left behind in Australia.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North is told from more voices than just Dorrigo Evans’, some he has been wronged by and others wronged by him. It sets about proving that war on any battleground will leave scars that may never heal.
Flanagan’s ability as a non-fiction writer serves him well as he writes with such measured, deliberate pathos. It’s hard to believe the novel was written in the shadow of his dying father, a man who experienced such horrific atrocities on ‘The Line’. There is no black and white, as much as I found myself wanting there to be. As I lost myself in the flies and the stench and the hopelessness of Evans’ world as a captive, I craved a winner and a loser, a result of sorts. Clearly Flanagan knows in war, as in life, there are no simple spoils. The Narrow Road to the Deep North isn’t just one of the books of the year, it is one of the finest books of the last decade.