The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

This year’s Booker Prize Winner, this novel comes with a pretty strong recommendation: a lot of people who know what they’re talking about think it’s the best thing written this year. But is it? In parts, it is very good. The chapters which deal with what happened in the Prisoner of War camps that served as forced labour for the construction of the Burma Death Railway are compelling reading: what happened there, the conditions in the camps, the construction of the railway by slave labour, were all truly awful and can’t but inspire the reader’s emotional engagement. And it is all dealt with very well, which is quite an achievement. However, the novel as a whole is poorly put together, mainly because of the pretty unconvincing love story that we are served up with that runs in tandem with the main story of what happened in the POW camps. It is mainly unconvincing because of the way Flannigan throws every over the top literary cliché and splurge of emotional bombast at it in order to give the relationship a significance that can compete with the main story of unimaginable pain and suffering, endurance and cruelty, survival and death. The reader might well spend a lot of the novel fearing a truly awful and over the top saccharine conclusion to the love affair, a fear which might spoil the novel as a whole, but one which proves ungrounded in the end. The best novel of the year? No. A good novel? Yeah. A poorly conceived attempt? Definitely.

Mr A


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