The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

When I was a younger person and I bought an album, I was looking for an instant connection with what I had purchased – I would listen to it and straightaway, I would want it to be my new, favourite music without barriers. Sometimes this happened but sometimes, there would be records that did not instantly inspire, unable to move me initially; that I really did not rate. However, a loyalty to the artist or peer pressure would persuade me to revisit it, re-listen, persevere and the music would grow on me and ultimately, be an album that would remain with me always.

The analogy applies equally to Richard Flanagan’s book. I started off slowly with it, skeptical and not at all sure that I was going to thoroughly enjoy it but then, something clicked and this read completely absorbed me, surprising me on many levels. It is beautifully written and is not difficult to read, being in some ways simply told and accessible but having a smattering throughout of phrases and incidences that just add to its power as a narrative of magnitude that really should be read.

It skips about a bit and so is non-linear, although the middle of the book charts the time the main character, Dorrigo Evans, spends as a prisoner of the Japanese army during World War Two. We get a sense of the camaraderie between men but also the extremely terrible conditions in which these men were forced to survive. It is, at times, quite horrific. But despite this, there is a lack of gratuity in terms of the presentation of violence – you get a sense that Flanagan is presenting this to us, not to shock but just to show it as it was and this is augmented in the very human way that he depicts the characters from Australians to wives to Japanese soldiers. I couldn’t help but think of how human the book is, like Shakespeare, showing the motivations of man, of woman; of our perception of things and how this can differ from person to person and over time, as its original context inevitably shifts as people grow older and other issues become more important.

It’s not often now that I am surprised by fiction, that I genuinely have my breath taken away by something I’ve read but I can honestly say that this book moved me.

Read it.

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