Written in response to:
I also have read The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I must disagree with Susan Lever on one point – that Richard Flanagan is writing to entertain. Entertain he does not. I heard a writer the other day talking to Margaret Throsby, and she quoted, I think, another reader who had read a book full of details about glove-making – roughly along the lines of ‘I don’t really remember the characters or what they did, but I have learnt a lot about glove-making’. So it is with Flanagan’s book. There are an awful lot of details about life in the POW camps – awful in both senses of the word. It seemed that Flanagan had tracked down every anecdote about the railway, and included them all, then constructed a framework around it to hold a non-hero. 467 pages – pages needing editing. About 150 pages could have been deleted and the book would have been better.
Certainly, one can compare The Narrow Road to the Deep North to A Town Like Alice – and Neville Shute wins by a long chalk. The film The Bridge on the River Kwai fictionalises this episode but does not depict the conditions as bad as they were. Dorrigo Evans appears as a cross between the real Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey, who was the senior British officer and actively hindered – to the best of his ability – construction of the Bridge, and the fictional Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, who actively encouraged the construction of the bridge, and who was created in the eponymous novel by Pierre Boule ‘as an amalgam of his memories of collaborating French officers’. Evans appears to me as a weak character – willing to go along with what his fiancé says, never bothering to check up after the war as to his lover Amy, even to go and see her grave (there wasn’t one, of course), not even of sufficient strength to be faithful to his wife. Not a book to recommend.