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The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North 7

by Richard Flanagan
Publication Date: 15/10/2014
4/5 Rating 7 Reviews

Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2014.

A novel of the cruelty of war, tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love. August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier.

Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever. This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

'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

Contemporary fiction
Publication Date:
Random House Australia
Country of origin:
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Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan was born in Longford, Tasmania, in 1961. He is descended from Irish convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land in the 1840s. His father is a survivor of the Burma Death Railway. One of his three brothers is Australian Rules football journalist Martin Flanagan. He grew up in the remote mining town of Rosebery on Tasmania’s western coast.

His novels, Death Of A River Guide, The Sound Of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book Of Fish, The Unknown Terrorist, Wanting and The Narrow Road to the Deep North have received numerous honours and are published in twenty-six countries.

He directed a feature film version of The Sound Of One Hand Clapping. A collection of his essays is published as And What Do You Do, Mr Gable?

His latest book The Narrow Road to the Deep North won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

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  • Profoundly moving.

    by on

    4.5 stars

    “There was around him an exhausted emptiness, an impenetrable void cloaked this most famously collegial man, as if he already lived in another place – forever unravelling and refurling a limitless dream or an unceasing nightmare, it was hard to know – from which he would never escape. He was a lighthouse whose light could not be relit”

    The Narrow Road to The Deep North is the sixth novel by award-winning Australian author, Richard Flanagan. Despite his humble beginnings in a remote Tasmanian village filled with “verandah-browed wooden cottages”, Dorrigo Evans is clever enough to get scholarships for high school and university. He leaves the locale where he used to “smell the damp bark and drying leaves and watch clans of green and red musk lorikeets chortling far above. He would drink in the birdsong of the wrens and the honeyeaters, the whipcrack call of the jo-wittys…”

    By 1940, he is a promising young surgeon, engaged to Ella Lansbury, a girl from the right sort of family, when he joins the army. Stationed near Adelaide while awaiting dispatch overseas, Dorrigo’s chance encounter with his Uncle Keith’s young second wife, Any Mulvaney, results in a liaison he could neither have anticipated nor resisted.

    A few years on, Dorrigo Evans is a Prisoner of War, in command of a thousand men charged with building the Burma Railway, where cruelty and death were unwelcome, but commonplace: “They had smoked to keep the dead out of their nostrils, they had joked to keep the dead from preying on their minds, they had eaten to remind themselves they were alive…”

    Dorrigo is constantly wracked with feelings of inadequacy, but “He could do this, he told himself… He had no belief he could do it, but others believed he could do it. And if he believed in them believing in him, maybe he could hold onto himself”

    The survivors return home to a life that feels alien: “He didn’t fit with his own life anymore, his own life was breaking down, and all that did fit – his job, his family – seemed to be coming apart”. Dorrigo goes through the motions, marries, has three children and “Occasionally, he felt something within him angry and defiant, but he was weary in a way he had never known, and it seemed far easier to allow his life to be arranged by a much broader general will than by his own individual, irrational and no doubt misplaced terrors”

    A celebrated surgeon and a war hero, Dorrigo despises the society of which he is part: “He did not believe in virtue. Virtue was vanity dressed up and waiting for applause”. From those who have been there, he sometimes hears words of wisdom: “Adversity brings out the best in us, the podgy War Graves Commission officer sitting next to him had said… It’s the everyday living that does us in”

    Using multiple narrators, Flanagan examines the well-known cruelty of the Japanese captors from both sides. He also exposes the staggeringly selfish attitudes of POW officers, the sometimes secretive, sometimes selfish and sometimes extraordinarily generous behaviour of enlisted men, and also the postwar politics of punishment. With descriptive prose that is exquisite, it is no wonder that this novel is a winner of several awards and a nominee for many more. Profoundly moving.

  • A Booker prize winner well deserved!

    by on

    Richard Flanagan has been writing books for a long time. Best known for The Sound of One Hand Clapping, this is Flanagan at his absolute best. A deeply personal story for Flanagan and I'm proud to be Australian and for his well deserved win! Narrow Road has a dual narrative flowing through from the main character, Dorringo Evans time as a doctor in the Prisoner of War camp on the Thai-Burma railway to his successful life in Sydney as a well-known surgeon. Essentially this novel tells the story of love and the cruelty of war in its many forms, of mateship and heroism. At its heart is the impossibility of love and it explores the many ways this may take form. This is a powerful piece of Australian literature from one of Australia's best writers.

  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North

    by on

    The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a dark and powerful novel that will hold you in it’s thrall until the very end.

    The first half of the book demands your attention in the way that it jumps from anecdote to anecdote – you have to keep sharp in order to understand where Dorrigo is and how this fits in with the complex narrative. The threads that hold the story together become more apparent as you near the middle of the novel – there’s a consistent thought of Evans’ mate, Darky, and his demise, and musings over a long lost love that create a cohesive string of thoughts that you can grasp onto.

    Dorrigo is a young man from Tasmania, who is trained as a surgeon and shipped out to fight in World War II. After a brief stint of training in Adelaide (where aforementioned love is established) he’s thrown into the brutality of warfare and expected to be the leader of the ragtag bunch of Australians that look to him for guidance and support. It’s a role that doesn’t sit well with Dorrigo, as he sees himself as less than the boys who hold him in such high regard.

    The recollection of Dorrigo’s time ‘on the line’ as a POW is difficult reading. But with such reading comes the understanding that you too are in this with him, and that you must endure the descriptive narrative of the suffering of the POW’s – those who fear they will be forgotten, and plead with Dorrigo to keep their memory alive throughout the novel.

    As war draws to a close, the novel extends to recall the existence of life itself, and how all must go on after such atrocities. We follow Dorrigo as he reestablishes himself in the real world, participating but not entirely part of it, as he ponders his life, how he loves, and what it means in the scheme of things.

    We are also able to catch a glimpse of the life of the “other”, being the Japanese and Korean soldiers who terrorized and worked the Australians on the line. One accepts death as his due, the other chooses a different path in order to survive. Reading these endings feels hollow and wrong after the strong passages that were dedicated to the understanding of life on the line for the POWS. Flanagans abiity to define a right way of life and a wrong life is one of the most powerful lessons the book creates in its readers.

    Throughout the book Dorrigo relies on the magic of prose to keep the story alive. Haiku poems are used to signify a message, or soften the blow of a brutal passage that one has read. Themes of light and dark also play a vital role in the progression of the story, when light signifies good and dark belying evil or horror.

    Flanagan has worked hard for the Man Booker prize with this novel, and the win is certainly deserved.

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