If there is a book that stands head and shoulders above the rest for me in the past 12 months, it is Richard Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North. If you haven't read it yet, get cracking. Buy it for your Dad for Father's Day.
From the moment I spotted the cover, both strong and ethereal, I knew this was going to be something special. Don't judge a novel by it's cover I hear you say... but I do sometimes I'm afraid. A perfectly executed cover really draws me in, sets the mood for the text inside. Why do you think publishers agonise over them so much? Anyway, Flanagan's book is brilliant start to finish.
Flanagan has been longlisted for the Booker Prize and we find out in a week if he has made the shortlist. Fingers crossed.
Flanagan is a master storyteller. Someone who can recount the sheer indignity and horror of being a POW, but deliver it in a matter-of-fact manner. Because the truth is, of course, that in trauma many people find a black, black humour because that gag, that fleeting moment does give you a very real human connection. A reprise. Fleeting happiness.
Narrow Road to the Deep North is, like Ulysses, of epic ambition. The outward journey of Dorrigo Evans and to a lesser extent the Japanese soldier Nakamura to Thailand shows a genuine struggle for both characters. The return home presents a lifelong search for meaning as both feel misrepresented. Neither character is wholly good, or pure evil. There is a smattering of both and different circumstances in life force throw these traits into play. I'd say this is is one of Flanagan's central points: no human is flawless. 'Morality' can be fluid. Where does 'good' start and end? Where does 'evil' end?
Though one was the clear victor in war, there are no winners in this book. Flanagan holds a mirror up to the Australian 'digger' culture in equal measure with the Japanese military and poetic culture. Both are found equally wanting just as each have found pockets of perfection.
The Blurb: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Random House
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014. A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.
August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.
This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.
Click here to read an extract of Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.