20 December 2016

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, Australia, 2013

This would have to be one of the best (if not the best) book I have read this year. The writing is, as with all Flanagan’s books, superb. Although the main part of the book deals with Australian prisoners of war and the building of the Burmese railway (and is, consequently, extremely confronting), it does not merely dwell on the atrocities of war, but gives a balanced two-sided view as to why such things may have happened. It makes no excuses, but it does
give explanations.

The book follows the life of Dorrigo Evans from his beginning in Tasmania, through a career in medicine punctuated by several years of military service, to his end on the mainland of Australia. Woven into his life is his love for Amy (his uncle’s young wife), and his less-than-satisfactory marriage with Ella.

This is a book that stays with you long after the last paragraph has been read and the book closed. There are definitely many images that refuse to go away, but there are also thoughts and perspectives that smuggle their way into your subconscious and, hopefully, shed some light on all the bigger questions: why are we here? What is life? What is death? What is love?

Days and months are travellers of eternity. So too the years that pass by. (From Basho’s travel journal The Narrow Road to the Deep North).

The edition I read (by Vintage) has 467 pages, so it is definitely not a one-evening read (and, even if it were possible, I do not think that most people would be able to absorb so much in such a short space of time). Apart from the fact that it was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2014, it is definitely a book I would recommend.

The photo of Flanagan receiving the Man Booker Award is from the ABC. 

06 December 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, USA, 2015

Like all of the books I have read by Anne Tyler, this is a book about ordinary people and the ordinary things that happen to them. There is no suspense or intrigue beyond the suspense and intrigue that exists in the ordinary, everyday situation. And yet, in spite of the book’s ordinariness (or perhaps because of it) the reader is held captive, becoming part of the family described on the pages, wanting to know more.

A Spool of Blue Thread tells the story of Red and Abby Whitshank and their four children. Part of the story is told in the present tense, part is told as flashbacks to when Red and Abby were younger versions of themselves. Everything that happens in the book is completely possible, and it is this factor that grabs the reader’s attention. Situations and problems are all recognizable, and as a result it is easy for the reader to become part of what is going on.

The book, like all Anne Tyler’s books, is well written. The only criticism I would make is that it may be just a little too long. My interest was definitely retained until the three-quarter mark when, like the spool of thread it is describing, the book seemed to unwind. The remaining quarter was still worth reading, but there was a feeling of having already passed the finishing post. 

Photo of Anne Tyler from