- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; 1st Edition edition (August 12, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385352859
- ISBN-13: 978-0385352857
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,788 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Narrow Road to the Deep North: A novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 12, 2014
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“Some years, very good books win the Man Booker Prize, but this year a masterpiece has won it.” —A.C. Grayling, Chair of Judges, Man Booker Prize 2014
“Richard Flanagan has written a sort of Australian War and Peace.” —Alan Cheuse, NPR
“A symphony of tenderness and love, a moving and powerful story that captures the weight and breadth of a life . . . A masterpiece.” —The Guardian
“I suspect that on rereading, this magnificent novel will seem even more intricate, more carefully and beautifully constructed.” —New York Times Book Review
“Captivating . . . This is a classic work of war fiction from a world-class writer . . . Nothing since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has shaken me like this.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post
“Elegantly wrought, measured, and without an ounce of melodrama, Flanagan’s novel is nothing short of a masterpiece.” —Financial Times
“A moving and necessary work of devastating humanity and lasting significance.” —Seattle Times
“A novel of extraordinary power, deftly told and hugely affecting. A classic in the making.” —The Observer
“Nothing could have prepared us for this immense achievement . . . The Narrow Road to the Deep North is beyond comparison.” —The Australian
“A devastatingly beautiful novel.” —The Sunday Times (London)
“The book Richard Flanagan was born to write.” —The Economist
“It is the story of Dorrigo, as one man among many POWs in the Asian jungle, that is the beating heart of this book: an excruciating, terrifying, life-altering story that is an indelible fictional testament to the prisoners there.” —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“Exhilarating . . . Life affirming.” —Sydney Morning Herald
“A supple meditation on memory, trauma, and empathy that is also a sublime war novel . . . Pellucid, epic, and sincerely touching.” —Publishers Weekly
“Homeric . . . Flanagan’s feel for language, history’s persistent undercurrent, and subtle detail sets his fiction apart. There isn’t a false note in this book.” —Irish Times
“The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a big, magnificent novel of passion and horror and tragic irony. Its scope, its themes and its people all seem to grow richer and deeper in significance with the progress of the story, as it moves to its extraordinary resolution. It’s by far the best new novel I’ve read in ages.” —Patrick McGrath, author of Constance
“I loved this book. Not just a great novel but an important book in its ability to look at terrible things and create something beautiful. Everyone should read it.” —Evie Wyld, author of All the Birds, Singing
“The luminous imagination of Richard Flanagan is among the most precious of Australian literary treasures.” —Newcastle Herald
“In an already sparkling career, this might be his biggest, best, most moving work yet.” —Sunday Age (Melbourne)
“An unforgettable story of men at war . . . Flanagan’s prose is richly innovative and captures perfectly the Australian demotic of tough blokes, with their love of nicknames and excellent swearing. He evokes Evans’s affair with Amy, and his subsequent soulless wanderings, with an intensity and beauty that is as poetic as the classical Japanese literature that peppers this novel.” —The Times (London)
“Extraordinarily beautiful, intelligent, and sharply insightful . . . Flanagan handles the horrifyingly grim details of the wartime conditions with lapidary precision and is equally good on the romance of the youthful indiscretion that haunts Evans.” —Booklist
“Virtuosic . . . Flanagan’s book is as harrowing and brutal as it is beautiful and moving . . . This deeply affecting, elegiac novel will stay with readers long after it’s over.” —Shelf Awareness
“Devastating . . . Flanagan’s father died the day this book was finished. But he would, no doubt, have been as proud of it as his son was of him.” —The Independent (UK)
“Despite the novel’s epic sprawl it retains the delicate vignettes that characterise Flanagan’s work, those beautiful brush strokes of poignancy and veracity that remain in the reader’s mind long afterwards.” —West Australian News
“Mesmerising . . . A profound meditation on life and time, memory and forgetting . . . A magnificent achievement, truly the crown on an already illustrious career.” —Adelaide Advertiser
About the Author
Richard Flanagan's five previous novels—Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish, The Unknown Terrorist, and Wanting—have received numerous honors and are published in forty-two countries. He won the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. He lives in Tasmania.
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The scenes at the POW camp were incredible, and this is clearly the heart and the soul of the book where the major themes and ideas play out. For the most part, this is an incredibly brutal but also nuanced storyline, where Flanagan does a very good job of deconstructing and questioning such fundamental and taken-for-granted constructs such as "heroism", "duty", and "virtue" and instead portrays a flawed, and often bleak, image of humanity. Despite the close personal connection to the topic (Flanagan's father worked on the railroad as a POW), it is a risky one given the many well-known and iconic works that have tackled this or a similar subject (e.g., Bridge over the River Qwai, King Rat, Empire of the Sun, Unbroken ... I'd argue that, although there are perhaps more differences than similarities between the two works, there are even parallels with Anthony Doerr's recent best-seller All the Light We Cannot See as well). Yet, Flanagan succeeds brilliantly, and these scenes work well on several levels of meaning and engagement as a reader.
I thought that the post-war storylines were compelling as well. The irony that these men (captors and captives alike) were at their most alive when they were in the most inhumane conditions makes for a bittersweet denouement, as most continued to fight the war--albeit internally--long after the fighting ended. In both the POW camp as well as the post-war scenes, I thought Flanagan did a nice job of telling a cohesive story from multiple perspectives. As a result, multiple and more nuanced perspectives emerged, greatly enriching the story.
Unfortunately, this novel had some glaring weaknesses as well, at least in my opinion (reading some of the other reviews, it looks like I am not alone on some of these issues at least). As others have pointed out, the romance with Amy is just not well-written or compelling. This is a critical issue, because Amy is key to understanding Dorrigo's thoughts and actions before, during, and after the war. To work, the reader needs to love Amy as Dorrigo does, to yearn for her, put her on a pedestal, to believe there are two types of women: Amy, and everyone else. Instead, I found myself oddly indifferent to Amy--she just did not excite or seduce me as she apparently excited Dorrigo. Part of the problem, for me at least, is that like pretty much every female character in the book (who are few and far between) she is largely defined in terms of her relation to the men in the book; we see "Amy the trapped wife" and "Amy the yearning lover" but we don't really get to know just "Amy". I was really excited when the perspective shifted to Amy's partway through Part 2. However, while we learn more backstory, we don't really learn that much more about her, other than she also has the same "I don't know why, but I'm completely smitten with this person!" feelings as Dorrigo, while the reader is just left with the "I don't know why" part of that sentiment. This is not helped by Flanagan's saccharine and melodramatic writing in this section, which makes Dorrigo seem more like an infatuated 15 year old rather than a doctor in his late twenties. Their lovemaking is cringe-worthy (this book has the dubious distinction of being nominated for the "Bad Sex Award of 2014" by Literary Review), and I will unfortunately probably not be able to get the line "Hands found flesh; flesh, flesh" out of my head for a while. Because Amy is such a key part of Dorrigo's identity, the flaws of this story line also make Dorrigo a little harder to relate to as a character, particularly when it comes to his womanizing and his treatment of his wife and family.
That was my main criticism, but a major one--I was sorely tempted to stop reading the book by the end of Part 2; I'm glad I stuck with it, but it says something that a romantic dalliance is more "painful" to read than scenes of torture and death in a POW camp. However, there were a few other irritants. In general, although the Australians were nuanced, complex characters, the Japanese were pretty one note: brainwashed/unthinking monsters in a state of denial. This was a very regrettable missed opportunity to provide more nuance on the other side of the equation ... many Japanese did indeed buy into the propaganda, but many others didn't. Some resisted (and suffered for it), while many others bowed to the powerful social and cultural pressure to conform. On the other hand, I thought the story of Choi Sang-min, as a Korean prison guard for the Japanese, was quite powerful and evocative. As a final critique, I felt that Flanagan's writing often did not flow well, especially toward the beginning of the book. Many sentences had multiple clauses, on different subjects, awkwardly joined together by a mash of commas and semi-colons.
In reviewing this book, I struggled for a while about whether to give this book 3 stars or 4. Ultimately, however, I feel like the strengths of the book outweigh the negatives, and by time I got to Part 3, the Part 2 "romance" with Amy and other issues quickly receded from my mind. I recommend the book, but remain slightly unfulfilled ... this novel had the pieces to be a truly great work, yet it falls just a bit short of that potential.
What I found difficult, though was the way the time lines jumped around and also characters are brought into the story suddenly, with no reference to who they are. This may be author's style but it broke the flow of the narrative up for me to the point it became irritating. And then there is the really tiresome absence of " " for speech that completely breaks your reading rhythm when you have to stop and wonder whether it is or isn't someone speaking. Luckily there isn't much. What there is a lot of though are piles upon piles of human misery in graphic form. So if you are squeamish, stay away because it is essential to the truth of what happened and the author is not shy to describe the conditions that, along with the behaviour of the Japanese were beyond inhuman.
As those last survivors become fewer and fewer, this book is a heroic attempt to record the unebelievable suffering that comes from war in all its gruesome detail. However, it is not an easy read either for the subject matter or the way it is written, which is why I am not able to award it the 5 stars it probably deserves
The most phenomenal thing about Flanagan, though, is his talent as a writer. He is so gifted, the writing almost interfered with enjoyment of the story. Time after time, a phrase just (literally, not exaggerating) made me gasp. I found myself re-reading passages just to observe their construction. Flanagan is a master of a new way to say something profound.
Most recent customer reviews
The story serves as a sort of Australian antidote to "The Bridge over the River Kwai" focused on a POW camp filled with Australian...Read more