Rating: 4.5

2014 Longlist: The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Flanagan UK hc    Flanagan AUS

On Tuesday, September 9th, the titles that will move on to comprise the Man Booker Shortlist will be announced. I fully and wholeheartedly expect The Narrow Road to the Deep North to be firmly positioned on that list.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North will leave you stunned and deeply moved, or at least, it did me. I was left breathless on many more than just one occasion. There are so many wide and varied feelings you will experience, ones that swing your emotions from the more visceral and astonishing moments over to the heartrending, profound and beautiful ones. There are any half dozen sentences or paragraphs that could be included here to best show the power and gift Flanagan wields with his words. There are so many, really you could simply open the book to any page, point blindly and then bask in their beauty.

I’ve selected this one below to give an example of the more beautiful and profound, although I can’t tell you this is the most powerful one, it was just the one that struck me as wonderful at that point when reading it:

And Dorrigo realised he might never see Amy again. And with this knowledge, he knew he would have to work, to operate, to go to bed and rise again and live, and now go wherever the war took him, without another soul knowing what he carried deepest in his heart.

And here is but one mere example of the more visceral, however it is probably best read again in the context it was presented, and this one was made after one of those moments where I was left gasping for air:

… he thought he grasped the truth of a terrifying world in which one could not escape horror, in which violence was eternal, the great and only verity, greater than the civilisations it created, greater than any god man worshipped, for it was the only true god. It was as if man existed only to transmit violence to ensure its domain is eternal. For the world did not change, this violence had always existed and would never be eradicated, men would die under the boot and fists and horror of other men until the end of time, an all human history was a history…

The dedication at the front of the book, “to prisoner san byaku san ju go (335)”, is Flanagan’s way to honour his father, an Australian POW during WWII, and as Goodreads reviewer (Jill) states: “The Narrow Road is based on an actual event: the building of the Thai-Burma death railway in 1943 by POWs commanded to the Japanese. The title comes from famed haiku poet Matsuo Basho’s most famous work and sets up a truism of the human condition: even those who can admire the concise and exquisite portrayal of life can become the agents of death.”

It is an incredible story that continuously applies direct punches to the gut over and over again, but it also presents, and does quite sympathetically so, all/both sides, and at its very heart it is a great love story: in the first pages, a love story to Dorrigo’s one true love but then also for the love of these men that he shared this astonishing experience with.

Dorrigo is the main character, is a surgeon operating in the POW camp assigned to help build the death railway. He tells his/their story through a series of back and forth tales, from the past, to the time spent in the camp and to his present, old man self.  What gives this book such great power and integrity is that Flanagan does not present sides or is more sympathetic to the Australian prisoners, or point fingers or encourages hate against the Japanese, instead he so skillfully shares all experiences, of the Australian men beaten, starved, tortured, brutalized in the POW camps but also of the Japanese and Korean men in charge of the POWs. Great time and patience is also taken to show the life for all of the men involved in the camps (prisoner and soldier), during and following the war and also extends to beyond their return home.

It was incredible. I don’t think I can say anything more generous than that. At times it left me shaking and I’m sure the expression I wore on my face during the more tortured moments was one of twisted pain, but it was a beautiful, beautiful story too. The Narrow Road to the Deep North handles itself with incredible strength and integrity and is an exceptionally well-deserved contender for this prestigious literary award. 4.5 stars.

(This will be simultaneously posted on the Literary Hoarders site)

Also, thanks to Knopf Publishers as they did send an advanced reading copy/galley of this book well before it was nominated for the Man Booker. Much appreciated.)

2013 Shortlisted: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri #4

The LowlandRating: 4.5
The Lowland
A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri
2013 /352 Pages

The scope of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is epic: four generations of family through five decades in India and America.

This could be a recipe for disaster, as characters become truncated and neglected in favor of pushing the tale forward. Happily this is not the case here. We become intimate with all of Lahiri’s characters: the brothers Subhash and Udayan, their parents, their (!) wife Guari, their (!) daughter Bela, and Bela’s daughter Meghna.


2013 Shortlisted: A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki #4

A_Tale_For_The_Time_BeingRating: 4.5
A Tale for the Time Being
A Novel by Ruth Ozeki
Audiobook Narrated by Ruth Ozeki
2013 / 14 hours and 45 minutes

I’m not sure where to begin.

This is one of those novels that you finish and look around, blinking, just a little stunned that you’re no longer in the author’s world.  If you pick up this 2013 Man Booker shortlisted title, I promise that you will feel submerged by the tale.  You won’t be the same when it’s complete.  You’ll want it to win the prize.



2013 Shortlisted: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri #3

The LowlandRating: 4.5
The Lowland
A Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri
2013 /352 Pages

You say you want a revolution

It’s said that no good deed should ever go unpunished. It often feels as though even those who set out with only the purest and noblest of intentions in mind will ultimately be met with either a compromised failure or an unmitigated disaster at the conclusion of their journey. The real truth probably lies somewhere in between these two statements. A sense of disappointment arrives from the realization that the thing we seek to change is far too intrinsic to ever bend to our will. Then, as a direct result, a punishment is self-inflicted, a constant recurring reminder of a failure to understand and accept the truly limited nature of our role in the larger world.



2013 Longlisted: The Kills by Richard House

The_KillsRating: 4.5
The Kills
A Novel by Richard House
2013 / 913 Pages

Has anybody ever told you it’s not coming true

What could I possibly have left to write about Richard House’s Booker nominated conspiracy masterpiece that I haven’t written already?

This article exists less as a proper book review and more as a placeholder from which to link out to each of my previously published reviews of the four stand-alone novels – Sutler (book one), The Massive (book two), The Kill (book three), and The Hit (book four) – that combine to form The Kills.

The overall verdict: you should drop everything and read this novel. For more detailed explanations as to why, see each of the linked articles below.



2013 Longlisted: The Hit by Richard House (The Kills: Book Four)

The_HitRating: 4.5
The Hit (The Kills: Book Four)
A Novel by Richard House
2013 / 261 Pages

There is a world inside the world

The Kills is a 2013 Man Booker Prize nominated volume from Richard House which is comprised of four stand-alone novels. The Hit is the fourth of these novels.

In Don DeLillo’s classic 1988 novel Libra, a fictionalized Lee Harvey Oswald repeatedly insists that “There is a world inside the world.” Emphasizing his belief that buried beneath the surface of the visible, lurking just out of sight, is some second layer of complex hidden truths that are driven by incomprehensible machinations, this succinct statement compactly echoes the fear of conspiracy theorists and paranoid delusionists the world over.