Melissa's Reviews > A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
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Dec 07, 11

bookshelves: 2011, asia, classics, historical, library-book-club, library-book, paperback, war, australia
Read from October 20 to November 04, 2011

Although A Town Like Alice had some fairly large flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This was the second book I read for my reading group, and while I also rated the first book, Depths by Henning Mankell, 4/5 stars, I preferred this one of the two. I think the biggest problem for me was the degree of detachment from the characters. Jane always seemed too perfect to be true, and although she and Joe met under circumstances that naturally created a strong bond between them, their romance never really felt much developed beyond that. It never quite rang true emotionally - details like Jane raising her friend's baby for several years, then handing him back to his father once the war ended and never mentioning him again made it difficult to connect with her. Although she had many admirable qualities, it all felt a bit much by the time every Australian with a radio within 10,000 miles of her was in awe of her pluck.

The framing didn't help with the detachment issue. The novel is told from the perspective of the elderly solicitor who handles Jane's inheritance, and while it's made clear again and again that Jane is entirely sensible enough to handle her own affairs, it feels strange for Shute to repeatedly show us how strong she is, and yet tell her story from a male perspective. The peripheral characters are thumbnail sketches more than people, so the myriad of deaths in the first third aren't as moving as they might have been. I raced through the first two thirds, but the last 75 pages or so seemed to drag, and at that point it was easy to set the book aside.

All that said, the basic story at the heart of A Town Like Alice is so compelling. I've read very little set in Australia, and even less - if anything - set in Malaya. I'm far from at home with war stories, and the dated attitudes at play here would normally annoy me. Yet somehow, all of these factors combined just worked. I find it much easier to write about things that irked me than I do to conjure up praise, but A Town Like Alice deserves it. I'd cheerfully recommend it to anyone, and while I definitely wouldn't expect unmitigated praise in response, it's a book that deserves to be read.
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Reading Progress

10/21/2011 page 108
24.0%
10/21/2011 page 231
52.0% "This book has some fairly serious flaws, and yet I can hardly put it down. Not my usual fare at all, but very pleasantly gripping."
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