The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan was my bookclub selection for May. I am sure the discussion would have been much better if more than one of us had actually finished the book. I was not the one, but all of us non-finishers were committed to getting to the end, perhaps we will revisit this one during our June meeting.
This book won the 2014 Man Booker Prize, “the leading literary award in the English speaking world.” It is awarded to the best original novel, written in English and published in the UK, similar to the Pulitzer Prize here in America. The book is about WWII, Australian soldiers, Japanese POW camps, and … more. Here is the briefest of synopses from Goodreads:
A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.
Flanagan’s writing is terrific, his descriptions are vivid. It feels like he is able to write about the soul – of a place, of a time, of a country, and of a man. And yet, my favorite books are books that I feel connected to and that connection was lacking in this novel. I think the effect was very intentional by the author. There was a very existential feel about the book. So much of the book was about just surviving, about carrying on, about (sometimes literally) continuing to put one foot in front of the other. The machinations of the world were going to keep spinning, it was out of the control of any individual. The book left me with a vague feeling of hopelessness. All was not lost, but so much was, and in the end none of it seemed to matter.
Here is one passage, of many many, that gave me pause:
…Nakamura no longer seemed to Dorrigo Evans the strange but human officer he had played cards with the night before, not the harsh but pragmatic commander he had bartered lives with that morning, but the terrifying force that takes hold of individuals, groups, nations, and bends and warps them against their natures, against their judgements, and destroys all before it with a careless fatalism.