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on July 2, 2002
Too few of Nevil Shute's books are in print in this country--fortunately, this is one of the better one.
When an old Scottish man dies, London solicitor Noel Strachan learns that his sole heir is a young woman named Jean Paget. Strachan acts as her trustee, dispensing money as needed under the will, but the old lawyer soon finds himself falling for the young lady. Before Strachan has done more than shown her London's culture, Paget is off to Malaya to repay the village where she stayed during WWII by digging a well. She convinces Strachan to release the money by telling the story (based on real life) of how she and other women were held prisoner by the Japanese, but eventually found refuge in a small village. Before they go there, they encounter a young Australian, Joe Harmon, who is crucified for stealing food for them. When Paget returns to Malaya, she learns that Harmon survived and returned to Australia. Meanwhile, Harmon has gone to England to seek her, having thought she was married when they met in Malaya. They eventually meet up in Australia (Strachan, out of his own love for Jean, has gently attempted to frustrate the meeting). Jean, determined to make her home in Harmon's home area, sets out to make the godforsaken town into "A Town Like Alice"--a modern town like Alice Springs.
It is a fascinating story. But overlooked in every review I read is the role of the old solicitor, Noel Strachan, who finds himself in love with Jean some decades too late, and is unable to serve as a rival to Joe Harmon. He soon surrenders his unexpressed (even to himself) love out of regard for Jean's interest. His unrequited love, lends a poignant note to the book.
There are no villains. Even the dark characters, like the Japanese who crucified Harmon, are seen as human beings doing the best they can. The fact that the acts they do can be terrible do not alter the fact that they are human beings, and they are painted as such.
Harmon and the other Australian characters are not painted as well as the other characters; perhaps Shute, who had only recently emigrated to Australia, was afraid of erring in characterizations.
Still, a fine book that made a great miniseries.
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on January 18, 1999
I am a reader; I devour books. A Town Like Alice is one of my very favorites. I come back to it time and again, whenever I need to lose myself in the heat of Malaysia or the dust of Australia. This book is so well written that I can feel the stones in the road as Jean marches along with the other women in their "Death March". I can feel the despair she feels when she believes Joe to be dead and her intense joy when she discovers that he is still alive. The story is timeless. My mother-in-law,who was a bride during World War II, first introduced me to this book saying that it was her all time favorite, and even though I came of age in the 70's, the book speaks to me as well. Its message of love's survival in the face of desperate odds gives us all a sense of hope.
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on July 18, 2001
This classic of literature takes place on three continents. It involves history, geography, travel, adventure, misery, joy, evil, and love. He creates marvelous three-dimensional characters. Even the countryside is like another character, because it's so full and important to the story. I first discovered this story on PBS's "Masterpiece Theater" and that production was true to the book. The video (of that production) and the audiotape are also excellent. I had tears in my eyes when it came to an end, wanting it to go on and on. A completely satisfying book.
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on February 27, 1998
When asked what is my favorite book I always respond that I have two. The first is "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, and the second is "A Town Like Alice" by Nevil Shute. I've recommended it to many people over the years and I haven't found one person yet that could put it down. It's a true classic, one that I've enjoyed over and over. Shute's better known "On The Beach" is as good as "A Town Like Alice" but it is much darker in content. "Alice" is a sweet love story that spans time and distance. If you haven't read it yet do yourself a favor, pick it up, sit down in a comfy chair and enjoy.
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on October 18, 1997
Having spent time in the Australian outback in the 1960's, I found this book (read several years later) to be the ONLY story I've EVER read that captures the true character, lifestyle, and sense of the Australian people. The story woven around World War II and and the subsequent re-uniting of the main characters years later, makes this novel compelling and impossible to put down. The PBS series Masterpiece Theatre aired this story in the late 1970's and was an excellent portrayal of Shute's work. The two-volume video, while shortening the PBS work considerably, is still an enjoyable viewing experience.
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on September 11, 2003
This is a beautifully written story, cleverly and very poignantly told from the point of view of a 70-something man - a careful, considerate London solicitor who is the trustee (with broad discretionary powers) of a will that leaves a considerable sum of money (but not a lump sum, due to the conditions of the will) to a young woman.
Jean Paget is that young woman, and she is an extraordinary person, making her story very compelling reading.
The weaving of the threads of her life - her WWII experiences as a prisoner of the Japanese in Malaya; her fateful encounter with Australian Joe Harmon; the inheritance that allows her to leave the mundane working world; her interaction with solicitor Noel Strachan; and her search for her true destiny - is done in the most masterful way.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is deeply satisfying reading. It is everything a novel should be.
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on May 15, 2015
I purchased the kindle edition yesterday and finished it in just about two hours. This is suppose to be a three hundred page book which would take me about a week to read so I knew there was something wrong right away. I downloaded a sample of the other version just below it (Black background, Alice off to the right side, palm trees in the back) and so far it starts out with much more detail. It appears that this is a condensed summary of the book, maybe 50 or 60 pages tops. I have since returned it for a refund and plan to purchase the one I just downloaded. Of course now I know how the book ends so I'm not too happy over it. Amazon needs to correct this oversight.
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on August 29, 2001
"A Town Like Alice" reveals the "forced marches" imposed on WWII prisoners of war as they took place in, what was then, the Dutch East Indies. Historically, their captors, the Japanese army, took as prisoner men, women and children. The reason? They were either Dutch, English or Australian. Although the men were sent to labor camps, the captors did not always know where to take the women and children, and thus kept them walking, and walking, and walking. The story in the novel is transferred to the jungles of Malaysia. Prisoner of war Jean Pagett, a refined, young English woman, is the heroine, who takes over the leadership of the marching group of captives. Under devastating circumstances the women meet fellow prisoner of war Joe Harman, from the rugged Australian Outback, where he was a "ringer" or cattle runner. "Two total opposites" one would think but even though the war ends and everyone separates, they each set out a search to the opposing side of the earth to find the other. What was the bond and do they, in fact, accomplish their individual missions? Once involved in the story as a reader, it is difficult to put down the book. It's one of those of which you wish the last page had not come. An excellent read, a story that could have been true and one that gives hope that from bad circumstances, good, even great things can still come!
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on October 19, 2005
This feels almost like two different books, such is the compelling strength of the section set in WW2 where our heroine (Jean Paget) is leading a group of women who are captured and are being marched hundreds of miles by the japs. The Japanese weren't going to kill women and children but barely had enough supplies for their own soldiers so they just kept moving the women on with lies of a womens P.O.W. camp in the next place. During this time an Australian soldier (Joe Harman) steals food for them and gets caught and punished. The story is narrated by Jean Pagets solicitor. After the war she inherits a lot of money and goes back to a village that looked after her to build a well. This in turn inspires her to want to go to Joe Harmans rundown old town and do it up till it's `A Town Like Alice' (Alice Springs- a thriving town).

It's a very compelling story told by her solicitor who is very enamoured of her but knows his place (he's 73) though his feelings are very subtly and respectfully represented by the author. It's not perfect- one or two too many coincidences and sometimes it's frustrating when the author delays things happening. But a great book with a beautiful bitter sweet ending. Your heart will ache for the women and children being forced to march 10 to 15 miles for two years with many dying on the way and all suffering and will ache for the sweet old man that met the perfect woman 'forty years too late'.
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on August 21, 2005
A few books are worth reading and re-reading. This is one. My copy was worn out so I bought another. I have loaned or given it to many friends, each who have responded as I did. A timeless story of determination, dignity, and inspiration, A Town Like Alice makes life easier to live now. Granted, the horror and pain were based on a real historical account. But the hope and love unfold in such a way that they flow into today, as a calming relief.
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