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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

A haiku, and some final thoughts on Narrow Road to the Deep North

Richard Flanagan,
Narrow Road to the Deep North:
Envious of death.

Excellent novel with many complex characters and issues, a tremendous amount of material, beautiful language throughout, my only quibble comes with the concluding some of which are great (many spoilers here) such as the death of the Japanese officer Nakamura, thinking he's a "good man" even though he was a brutal torturer and abuser of those in his control, the Korean lackey Goanna who has no comprehension of his evil and was himself a victim, and at last the protagonist, Dorrigo, a beautifully depicted death scene, as his mind struggles for consciousness and we learn, subtly, that our glimpse of him at age 77 at the outset of the novel was in effect on the last night of his life. One section near the end - Dorrigo rescuing his family from a vast forest fire on the island of Tasmania, is very well depicted but seemed superfluous - I guess it shows that D. can be heroic, though we knew that already, and also that he's not entirely indifferent to his family, at least not when his manhood is at stake. The troubling part to me is the conclusion of the Dorrigo-Amy romance, which seemed very forced and "writerly" to me, a trick of the trade rather than an organic and likely development: Amy after all these years is alive (most readers would sense that, in that Flanagan never explicitly depicts her death) - she believes that Dorrigo didn't survive the war, although one would think she could learn he's alive pretty easily, and D. believes she died in the fire: tricked by a letter (one of the few he received, coincidentally) from his then fiance Ella, who obviously knew of the romance and sabotaged it. It's hard for me to believe that D. would not have tried to find out about Amy on his return - and their passing each other on the bridge in Sydney and not speaking seemed very forced to me - though I was glad that Flanagan didn't go for the romantic-movie ending, that they never re-connect. I'm left a little puzzled by D's reconnecting with his older brother, Tom, and learning that Tom had a son who was a POW like D himself: was he in fact one of D's fellow prisoners? I can't quite make that connection. Anyway, these may be just quibbles, some bumpy passages in a really good novel - one of the few recent Man Booker winner in my view deserving of the award - it can't be all corrupt (St. Aubyn be damned).

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