A Town Like Alice – Review
Currently on loan from the Library:
Cleopatra – by Stacy Schiff
The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr
The German Bride – by Joanna Hershon (I’ve already finished this. But I don’t really have anything in particular to say about it.)
Other books I’m currently reading:
Anathem – by Neal Stephenson (This one is going slowly, but it’s going)
I was going to save my review of A Town Like Alice until after this month’s book club meeting. It was the book that I chose for the club. However, we’ve had some scheduling issues this month that have put the club meeting off until the third Monday, instead of the first. So I’m going to write my review now while this book is still sort of fresh in my mind.
A Town Like Alice has long been a favorite of mine. The author, Nevil Shute, is better known in the States for his nuclear holocaust novel On the Beach. He was however, a fairly prolific writer starting in the late 1920’s. A Town Like Alice was published in 1950. On the Beach was published in 1957. I first found Nevil Shute in college. I’ve read On the Beach, as well as many of his other works exactly once. On the Beach, by the way is one of the most heartbreaking novels I’ve ever read. I keep coming back to A Town Like Alice over and over again.
I think A Town Like Alice has become so important to me because of the heroine Jean Paget. Every time I read the book she cleanses my palate of all those Chick Fic heroines with their Prada, and their “do these jeans make my ass look fat” and their but I want what I want or else attitudes. Jean is not a feminist. But she could have been. This does not stop her from embodying the values of an earlier generation. Jean is a grown up. We know that she is attractive. But it’s not the important thing about her. She is so much more than her face, or her boobs. She’s courageous. She’s determined, but not rude, or vulgar. She’s got character and grace, and brains. More than that. She carries herself in a way that earns her respect, and not in away that demands people give her respect even if she’s acting like an overgrown child. If more women aspired to be Jean Paget, and not Carrie Bradshaw, the world would be a better place.
The book is narrated from the point of view Jean’s lawyer and eventual friend Noel. Jean’s uncle, who she has met perhaps twice in her life, leaves Jean a trust fund. An inheritance that makes her an independently wealthy woman. Noel is the administrator of the trust, who has to hunt Jean down so she can inherit. Part of the problem is that Jean and her brother were caught in Malaya during the Japanese occupation of World War II. Jean’s brother dies building a railroad for the Japanese. Jean and the other English women and children she is captured with are marched around Malaya as prisoners of the Japanese. As she tells her story to Noel, and he tells her story to us, Jean figures out how to spend her new wealth, and to continue her life.
Jean is honorable too. She pays her debts.
Eventually, as many of Shute’s books do, we end up in Australia. In Australia Jean figures out how to be happy, even living under difficult circumstances in the out back. I’d say more, but that would spoil the end.
This book is well worth the read, even now. There are many plot twists and turns. It’s not a heavy read, or a very long one. Still, it’s a gem of a book that I’m sad more people haven’t ever read.
Enjoyably: This is a five-star book for me. Plain and simple.
Where to read this book: Anywhere. Anytime. In fact go get it now. The Kindle download is $2.99.
Further Reading: Anathem and the rest of Cleopatra. Both are going really well.
Posted on January 14, 2013, in Fiction, Reading, review and tagged A Town Like Alice, Alice, Anathem, Beach, Carrie Bradshaw, Neal Stephenson, Nevil Shute, World War II. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.