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

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Monday, March 16, 2015

The Man Booker judges were on the money: Narrow Road to the Deep North

Pretty solid consensus last night as the 7 members present of book group largely agreed on that Richard Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North was an excellent contemporary novel; overall, strong admiration for the quality of the prose, the range and scope of information and relationships in the book, the artful almost architectural construction of the plot, the vast amount of historical information that Flanagan dramatized without for a moment getting bogged down in research and pedantry (I don't think I've ever read a historical novel that wore its research so lightly - it seemed as if RF lived through the POW experience in WWII; in fact, one member noted, it was apparently his father who lived at least through the war if not the death march). I for one was particularly moved almost to tears by the postwar gathering of the Tasmanian POWs. We recognized that this copious though never tedious novel contained some materials that seemed extraneous: could certainly ditch the fire-rescue scene in Tasmania; JoRi felt she could have done w/out the entire Amy love story, but I disagree there and think that romantic yearnings and frustrations were a vital part of Dorrigo's personality and personal struggle - though a certainly felt manipulated by Flanagan, who withheld key narrative information to build dramatic effect, and I also felt the heavy authorial hand in this part of the plot: surely Dorrigo and Amy would have made some efforts to determine the exact fate of the other, and in particular Amy would have been aware that D. was alive, right? We agreed universally, though, that the postwar Japan scenes, though potentially peripheral, were important to the theme of the novel, presenting in their way a range of case studies in how men can become violent and sadistic in time of war an of the stories we tell to ourselves, the stories we (or some) create about our own lives, in order to make peace with the worst angels of our nature. I noted that the first chapters were very difficult and disorienting, as we had little idea which characters were significant, which not, and what the connections were among the various characters and the scenes from Dorrigo's early and late life - this novel is almost circular, like the "death poem" contained within one of the chapters, and it merits going back and re-reading the first five chapters, which make a lot of sense once you see the entire scope of the book. For once, the Man Booker judges were on the money.

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