Jane's Reviews > A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
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's review
Dec 30, 2011

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Read in December, 2011

Another read for my local book club. This is an "old" book--published around 1950--with a heroine, Jean Paget, at its center. Its narrator is English solicitor/attorney, Noel Strachan, who has been selected to administer an estate/trust for Jean. Jean, a native of Scotland, had spent a good portion of her childhood in Malaysia (or "Malaya" as the book calls it) due to her father's business interests. However, Jean and her elder brother get caught up in strife when Japan invades Malaysia during WWII. Her brother ultimately dies, but Jean--despite three years of imprisonment, forced marches and work in the Malaysian rice paddies--not only survives by thrives. Left utterly alone after the war, she has returned to England to a rote job, but has shut down her emotions in an effort to shut out the bad memories of her wartime experiences. Suffice to say her pluck, unexpected fortune, ingenuity and ultimate removal to (and connection with the "burly man in the Outback") Australia result in a happy ending. Parts of this book are slow, parts are very dated, parts are predictable--and others unpredictable--but overall I must say I learned quite a bit in this tale and also found it a fairly satisfying read. It's clearly written from a man's perspective, and I think it's good the author did choose a male narrator or the story might be less believable, as I don't think Shute has enough "female sensibility" to have pulled it off from an altogether female perspective. If you would like to learn more about Malaysia during WWII or the Outback of Australia in the late 1940s and can shrug off some mid-century chauvinism and racism, you might enjoy this book and rooting for Jean, a plucky survivor with a knack for turning breakdowns into successes.
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