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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Monday, February 16, 2015

Several reasons why I'm very impressed (so far) with Narrow Road to the Deep North

Very impressed still (half-way thru+) with Richard Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North for a # of reasons, first, the style is consistently beautiful and precise, poetic at time and at other visceral and sometimes even aphoristic - yet to me it never feels forced or over-written. Second, though the novel by and large evokes a past era (WWII, for the most part) and a specific historical incident (POWs enslaved by the Japanese and forced to build a railroad from Siam to Burma to enable the Japanese to invade India) but it never feels as is this novel is based on research, he doesn't keep scoring historical "points" but it feels, incredibly enough, as if he's lived through this era and is writing from his own soul. Third, it's a very surprising novel: at times it seems to be a brutal POW story, and it is that, but at other times it feels very much like a love story, and it is that, too, and at other times it feels like the unfolding of a man's life over a long period of time - though this aspect is not fully developed (we see the protagonist in his youth, briefly, in the first section, and as a 70+ man even more briefly), at least in the first half of the novel. Fourth, it defies convention: the love story could devolve into treacle like Bridges of Madison County but it doesn't, it's very dark and edgy; similarly, the war heroics could be like a thousand other novels but it's not - nobody's a hero yet many of the characters have heroic qualities. Part of the strength and complexity come from Flanagan's development of the protag, Dorrigo Evans - a man who acts heroically but does not seem - to himself or us - to be a hero because he's deeply flawed, unfaithful to his wife, a betrayer of trust - and yet we're not (quite) sure why he is a serial cheater - clearly, to fill some kind of need, but exactly what that need is Flanagan never spells out directly, we have to gather it by inference (his mother who was uninvolved, his loss during the war of the great passion of his life, his absent father, his social striving - all play some kind of role) - in other words, a novel of many dimensions that, for all that, is surprisingly engaging, relatively easy to follow, and beautifully paced. Hoping he keeps it up!

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