REVIEW: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (review by Andrew Cattanach)

In this, a year of so many extraordinary gifts from the literary world, how can one work shine so brightly on the Australian landscape?

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.

You can find a copy of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North here

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

I just wanted to share my excitement about the imminent publication of Geraldine Brooks’ new book, Caleb’s Crossing.

Geraldine’s particular passion is for bringing to vivid life shards of little known history. With Year of Wonders we were all instantly transported to the terror and the marvel that was the English plague of the mid-seventeenth century. In People of the Book she illuminated the Jewish world going back through the centuries, and in March, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize, she gave us a compelling alternative view on Little Women.

I am only about a third of the way through my proof of Caleb’s Crossing, and I haven’t yet sighted a finished copy. So far it has proved itself to be beautifully written, measured in pace, nourishing to the imagination and utterly compelling to read.

As to the theme, it puts me in mind of some other great Australian novelists who have so recreated that clash of civilisation brought about when a colonising force comes face to face with first people – Kate Grenville’s Secret River, Richard Flanagan’s Wanting, and most recently (and probably most authentically) Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance. As an aside, it is fascinating to read an Australian’s take (albeit she probably has dual citizenship by now) to an American story.

Caleb’s Crossing is available from May 1 and can be pre-ordered now. A beautiful hardback edition is also available.

In the meantime, go here to read Brooks’ answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions.

As for her fascinating forays into non-fiction, try Nine Parts of Desire.

Geraldine Brooks spent six years covering the Middle East through wars, insurrections, and the volcanic upheaval of resurgent fundamentalism. Yet for her, headline events were only the backdrop to a less obvious but more enduring drama: the daily life of Muslim women. Nine Parts of Desire is the story of Brooks’ intrepid journey toward an understanding of the women behind the veils, and of the often contradictory political, religious, and cultural forces that shape their lives. Defying our stereotypes about the Muslim world, Brooks’ acute analysis of the world’s fastest growing religion deftly illustrates how Islam’s holiest texts have been misused to justify repression of women, and how male pride and power have warped the original message of a once liberating faith

In Foreign Correspondence, Geraldine Brooks longs to discover the vivid places where she believes history and culture are made. Penfriends from the Middle East, France and America offer her the window she craves on life beyond Australia’s isolated backyard. With the aid of their letters, Brooks turns her bedroom into the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, the barricades of Parisian student protests and the swampy fields of an embattled kibbutz. Twenty years later and worlds away from her sheltered girlhood, Brooks is an award-winning foreign correspondent covering war and famine. Still intrigued by the foreign correspondents of her adolescence, she embarks on a human treasure hunt in Israel, France and the US to find them.

The 50 Must Read Australian Novels (40 to 31) (The Popular Vote 2010)

If we mometarily ignore the genius of Hal Porter (37) and the Nobel Prize winning Patrick White (32), the next ten titles on our list could be said to represent the best of modern writing in Australia. Who am I trying to kid? I can’t ignore Hal Porter or Patrick White. The next ten, therefore, can be said to represent the best of Australian writing. No more said. (Full List of 50 Must Read Australian Novels now available – click here)

9780143009528

40. A Fraction of the Whole

Steve Toltz

Meet the Deans.

The Father is Martin Dean.

He taught his son always to make up his mind, and then change it. An impossible, brilliant, restless man, he just wanted the world to listen to him – and the trouble started when the world did.

The Uncle is Terry Dean.

As a boy, Terry was the local sporting hero. As a man, he became Australia’s favourite criminal, making up for injustice on the field with this own version of justice off it.

The Son is Jasper Dean.

Now that his father is dead, Jasper can try making some sense of his outrageous schemes to make the world a better place. Haunted by his own mysteriously missing mother and a strange recurring vision, Jasper has one abiding question: Is he doomed to become the lunatic who raised him, or a different kind of lunatic entirely?

From the New South Wales bush to bohemian Paris, from sports fields to strip clubs, from the jungles of Thailand to a leaky boat in the Pacific, Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole follows the Deans on their freewheeling, scathingly funny and finally deeply moving quest to leave their mark on the world.


978014320305639. Butterfly

Sonya Hartnett

On the verge of her fourteenth birthday, Plum knows her life will change. But she has no idea how.

Over the coming weeks, her beautiful neighbour Maureen will show her how she might fly. Her adored older brothers will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends – her worst enemies – will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.

Who ever forgets what happens when you’re fourteen? Continue reading

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

Kim Scott won the Miles Franklin more than a decade ago for his novel Benang. His latest, That Deadman Dance, must surely be under consideration for a raft of major prizes.

A Noongar man from SW Western Australia, Scott has written a novel of first contact, which traces the first couple of decades of British presence in a fictional settlement on the coast. The story revolves around Bobby Wabalanginy, his people and the shifting alliances and relationships that link him into the fledgling colony as much as distance him from it.

The insights into earlier colonial times in WA are fascinating, especially the contact with the Yankee whalers. However, it is Noongar people, and their light touch on the landscape, which hold the greatest interest in the book. What starts as a reasonably promising relationship between English and Noongar, gradually deteriorates as the power shifts towards the newcomers until Bobby is forced to choose between the old world and the new.
There is interest enough in the story to make this a compelling book.

However, what lifts it way above that is the writing. Scott’s prose shimmers. This is a book that demands to be savoured. The readers will want to pause and re-read passages for the sheer beauty of the language and imagery.
The book has much to say about the first Australians and the English who changed their lives irrevocably. While contemporary writers such as Kate Grenville, Richard Flanagan, Andrew McGahan and Alex Miller have all wrestled with related themes, Kim Scott’s flawlessly written tale adds both meaning and depth to the Australian writing experience.

That Deadman Dance is available in both hard back and paper back now.

(Review by TW  published in  Bookseller and Publisher Magazine)

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