I’m busy packing my bags to fly back to England tonight.
Before coming to Singapore I downloaded a few of the Booker Prize shortlisted books and whilst here and on Bali I read Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North fairly quickly. I loved the book and think it is in with a good chance of winning the Booker. It is very readable, draws you into the history of what happened on the Burma Railway line, but it is much more than a good historical novel. The story goes back from present to past to further past and then to sometime after the second world war and then back and forward again. Dorrigo Evans, the protagonist, is himself a great reader and has a book with him wherever he goes “A good book, he had concluded, leaves you want to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul.” Admittedly, the latter books are rare and become even rarer as he grows older. Nevertheless, he happily sleeps without women but he never sleeps without a book.
With respect to the railway line, “in the end all that was left was the heat and the clouds of rain, and insects and birds and animals and vegetation that neither knew nor cared.” All of it, all the suffering, the killing, the cruelties and the deaths, all of it had been for nothing, there was no meaning in any of it.
The treatment of the prisoners in the camp is beyond words, nevertheless through Dorrigo Evans’ eyes but also through chapters on the points of view of others, the Japanese commanders, fellow prisoners, some of the guards, we get glimpses of what it must have been like, and the cruelty and suffering.
It’s also a love story, one where Dorrigo marries the woman he does not love, even though he thinks he does to begin with, and looses the woman he falls in love with. Again, the idea of senselessness comes through.
This is definitely a book I will reread, and it is one that compels you to reread your own soul!
I struggle a bit with Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, and whereas I read through Flanagan’s book without stopping, I get lost in Mukherjee’s. I think this book should be read in hard form, paperback or hardback, and not on a kindle. There are too many characters and often you need to be able to skip back or forward, in particular as there are one or two explanatory sections at the very end of the book. This is not done easily on a Kindle. there are explanations on the characters and also on the specific family relationships and how the use of suffixes or prefixes, in India, indicate such a relationship, e.g. of one who is older, a brother, a father, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother, etc.
I have lost the thread of who is who and what is what several times and am even ow only 60% or so through the book. Perhaps the long flight home provides an opportunity to stick with it, although I think I’d rather sleep.
I also read the Bone Clocks by David Mitchel, although this was not shortlisted unfortunately. I loved the book and Mitchell is such an excellent story-teller. I much prefer it to the Mukherjee but then I’m not one of the Booker Prize jury members, am I!
Still on my Kindle to be read is Ali Smith’s How to be Both – and I’ve heard good thinks about this one.
Meanwhile, my Kindle has started playing up. I suspect it’s got heat stroke as it is very slow in responding to clicks for page turning or commands to go back to library or find another page. This doesn’t help with he Mukherjee book.
Finally, another urgent book to read and review which has been on my Kindle for a while now is Jimmy Olsen’s ‘The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories’ – I’ve read two of the stories and very much enjoyed them. A full review will come once I’ve finished them all.
Time to go out for lunch and then it’s final packing.