Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North


The latest addition to my website is Richard Flanagan‘s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. This book has been nominated for the Man Booker Prize longlist for 2014. The book concerns the construction of the Burma Railway by the Japanese, using forced labour, during World War II and tells the story of a contingent of Australian soldiers, who are made to suffer considerable brutality at the hands of the Japanese and their Korean guards. Flanagan spares us few details of the horrors. He focuses on the commanding officer of the contingent, a surgeon called Dorrigo Evans. We follow Dorrigo’s affair, while in training, with the wife of his uncle, even though he has a girlfriend, Ella. We also see Dorrigo’s life after the war. Indeed, in the present, he is seventy-seven years old and still cheating on the same woman, Ella, who is now his long-suffering wife. However, the book only really becomes interesting, in my view, when the war ends and we follow the lives of the survivors – Japanese, Australian and Korean – and how they struggle, all too often unsuccessfully, to adapt to normal life. The book receive considerable praise in Australia and while it certainly is not a bad book and the final part is excellent, I am not sure that it would make a worthy Man Booker Prize winner, though having read only one other on the longlist, I am probably not competent to judge.

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