#BookReview The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

About the book

A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.

Richard Flanagan’s story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho’s travel journal, The Narrow Road To The Deep North is about the impossibility of love. At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds.

Published by Vintage Books

Literary Awards Man Booker Prize (2014)Miles Franklin Literary Award Nominee (2014)Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Fiction (2014)Australian Independent Booksellers Indie Book Award for Book of the Year (2014)Bad Sex in Fiction Award Nominee (2014)The Athens Prize for Literature – Περιοδικό (δέ)κατα (2016)Prix Relay des Voyageurs Nominee (2016)Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee for Fiction (2015)Queensland Literary Awards for Fiction Book (2014)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Historical Fiction (2014)Waterstones Book of the Year Nominee (2014)International DUBLIN Literary Award Nominee for Shortlist (2015)

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Listened to the audio version of this via the Borrowbox app from the library.

An astonishing story full of love, loss and the horrors of war from a variety of perspectives. It’s also the tale before, during and after of the impacts of relationships and atrocities witnessed have on those involved. And yes there are some cliche moments dotted throughout, but overall this is historical fiction written exceedingly well and you’re left haunted and deeply moved emotionally in equal measures.

The story centres around Dorrigo Evans and his extraordinary life and through his memories we get to witness a love affair that was doomed from the start, his time at a prisoner of war camp in Japan where friendships were formed and the darkest times witnessed, and to life after the war and how being back in the real world felt so hollow and his thoughts would often go back to the past and what he had lived through and lost.

The strongest part of the book for me was the time of War, and the way it was told from the perspective of the prisoners alongside that of the Japanese officers were equally powerful. The despair on both sides of what they were experiencing wasn’t easy reading at times but made for such a compelling story.

An extraordinary story and one I was glad to hear the author reading on the audio version.


#BookReview The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain

About the book

Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman for whom Edward Vlll abdicated in 1936, ended her life as the prisoner of her lawyer who would not allow anyone – friend, foe or journalist – to visit her in her Paris flat. Rose Tremain takes this true story and transforms it into an imaginative and ironic fiction. Her thesis is that Wallis, gaga and bed-ridden, has forgotten the king who gave up an empire for love of her.

The other stories in this magnificent collection range over a variety of themes, equally original and unexpected. An East German border guard, redundant after the Berlin Wall comes down in 1989, imagines that he might still have a purpose in life: he tries to reach Russia by bicycling across the hostile wastes of Poland. A jilted man gets his revenge. A baby grows wings. A character in an Impressionist painting escapes from his ‘frame’ – or does he? And there’s a Christmas story set in a seedy hotel…

Over a million Rose Tremain books sold

‘A writer of exceptional talent … Tremain is a writer who understands every emotion’ Independent I

‘There are few writers out there with the dexterity or emotional intelligence to rival that of the great Rose Tremain’ Irish Times

‘Tremain has the painterly genius of an Old Master, and she uses it to stunning effect’ The Times

‘Rose Tremain is one of the very finest British novelists’ Salman Rushdie

‘Tremain is a writer of exemplary vision and particularity. The fictional world is rendered with extraordinary vividness’ Marcel Theroux, Guardian

Published by Vintage Books

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I found this book in a library sale and the title immediately intrigued me! It was only when I opened up the book that I found it’s a collection of short stories – the Wallis Simpson story is the first one and the longest at around 46 pages long and it sets the tone for this collection of weird, sometimes wonderful, and sometimes flat short stories.

Beginning with Wallis it’s a fascinating concept that she’s forgotten who she is and swears at people who called her Duchess. There were so many glimpses of what could have been a wonderful longer story of a woman struggling with identity and illness, but it just fell a little flat for me in that it tried to do too much in such a short space of time. I would have loved to have read more of this one and done without some of the other much shorter stories!

The others in the collection were a mixed bag of the often very weird, quite dark and some instantly forgettable! One of the more fascinating stories was one of the shortest – Death of an Advocate – of a character in a painting who is viewing over the scene that surrounds him and wondering why he’s cold and everyone on the picnic rug is seemingly oblivious to his concerns.

Moth was also another intriguing story – very dark and set in a trailer park and centred around Pete who lived there with her 2 children and was always known for her crafting. And then strange things start happening to one of her children. Very bizarre but very readable and slightly heartbreaking too!

I think the problem with a lot of short story collections is that some of the stories don’t always grab you and that can put you off reading more. But this collection has enough to keep you turning the pages, I loved the darkness of them (there is swearing in some of the stories so watch out if you’re offended easily!) but it did make for an interesting and imaginative reading experience!