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Group Read > A Town Like Alice - Shute ~November 2011

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message 1: by Alias Reader (last edited Oct 26, 2011 07:35PM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments November 2011 Group Read

Discussion Leader:
Marialyce


What book:
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute A Town Like Alice

When: The discussion will begin on November 1, 2011

Where: The discussion will take place in this thread.

Spoiler Etiquette: Please post the chapter and or page number at the top of your post. Also type SPOILER when given away a major plot element.

Book Details:
# Paperback: 384 pages
# Publisher: Vintage (February 9, 2010)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0307474003

Synopsis:
"A harrowing, exciting, and in the end very satisfying war romance."
HARPER'S

A Town Like Alice (U.S. title: The Legacy) is a novel by the British author Nevil Shute about a young Englishwoman in Malaya during World War II and in outback Australia post-war.

Written from the perspective of her Scottish solicitor and trustee, it tells the story of her time as a prisoner of war in Malaya, and her post-war life in a small outback community in Australia, which she sets out to turn into 'a town like Alice', Alice Springs in the Northern Territory of Australia.

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked the novel seventeenth on The Reader's List of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century

About the Author:

Nevil Shute Norway was born in 1899 in Ealing, London. He studied Engineering Science at Balliol College, Oxford. Following his childhood passion, he entered the fledgling aircraft industry as an aeronautical engineer working to develop airships and, later, airplanes. In his spare time he began writing and he published his first novel, Marazan, in 1926, using the name Nevil Shute to protect his engineering career. In 1931 he married Frances Mary Heaton and they had two daughters. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he worked on developing secret weapons. After the war he continued to write and settled in Australia where he lived until his death in 1960. His most celebrated novels include Pied Piper (1942), A Town Like Alice (1950), and On the Beach (1957).

Amazon link:
http://www.amazon.com/Town-Like-Alice...


message 2: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments Discussion Questions. --** Questions may contain Spoilers

A Town Like Alice Topics for Discussion

What significance areJean Paget's ice skates and boots in the novel?

What are the significance of sarongs in the novel?

How is the Macfadden fortune tied to Australia?

Is Strachan justified in his handling of the trust? Why or why not?

What role does the unnamed Japanese sergeant play in the novel?

What role does little Robin Holland play in the novel?

How dos Jean Paget's wild rides in the outback change her situation?


message 3: by Madrano (new)

Madrano (madran) | 3732 comments I started this novel last night. Easy to read & i was immediately drawn in. Is it old age which had me tearing up at the mention of the marches? I don't remember being this soft, but it may be part of my brain is remembering more about the tv presentation than i acknowledge. ;-) or should that be ;-( ???

deborah


message 4: by Lesley (new)

Lesley | 239 comments I can't find this at the local libraries which I find strange as it was on secondary school reading lists when I was at school. I will keep trying.


message 5: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments Lesley wrote: "I can't find this at the local libraries which I find strange as it was on secondary school reading lists when I was at school. I will keep trying."
----------------

Can you do an inter-library loan ?


message 6: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 1208 comments Madrano wrote: "I started this novel last night. Easy to read & i was immediately drawn in. Is it old age which had me tearing up at the mention of the marches? I don't remember being this soft, but it may be part..."

I must have read too many sad things because it didn't bother me much at all. I also happened to notice that at the end of the book (I was looking for how many pages are in the book) there is an author's note that says that no such march happened in Malaya but there was one in Sumatra. I have been doing alot of googling reading this book since I know little about these places!


message 7: by Alias Reader (last edited Oct 30, 2011 03:02PM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments Julie wrote:

I have been doing alot of googling reading this book since I know little about these places!

-------------

If you find anything of interest share the links with the group, Julie.


message 8: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 1208 comments I thought about that but I haven't found one good explanation for anything. Just little pieces of what I was looking for.


message 9: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Oct 30, 2011 05:45PM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) http://www.nevilshute.org/atlanotes.php

This is a little long to read, but is from the author, I particularly liked the first paragraph.

"I think that the contents of a book are far more important than the style. An author should write as well as he is able to, because one of his jobs is to make his book easy to read, but no book will be successful, however good the writing, if the contents are trivial and not worth reading. For this reason it has always seemed to me to be important to go
to great lengths to find new material, to search for new facts and for new ideas to present
to the reader in the fiction form. An author should know something of the world outside
the bedroom if his book is to be useful.


There are a lot of interesting items about Mr. Shute to be found at this site.


message 10: by Alias Reader (last edited Oct 30, 2011 05:54PM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments I have his other book On the Beach. I think I nominated it at some point for our Group read.

I was able to get A Town Like Alice from the library the other day.


message 11: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments As to the author comment, I think to be successful both elements need to be present. Though I guess if I had to choose, I would side with content.


message 12: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 1208 comments Alias Reader wrote: "I have his other book On the Beach. I think I nominated it at some point for our Group read."

I was looking at that book's description the other day. It sounds interesting too.


message 13: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie (bobbie572002) | 1084 comments On the Beach was great. I read it back then -- and the movie was good too. I am using the past tense as my only concern is that it might be dated.


message 14: by Madrano (new)

Madrano (madran) | 3732 comments On the Beach has been on my to-read list longer than Alice. Bobbie, you may be right about being dated but i suspect Shute could handle it. How i loved that movie. Ah, Gregory Peck!

Marialyce, thank you for the Shute site. So much information is shared there. Overkill?

deb


message 15: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie (bobbie572002) | 1084 comments The thing is that A Town Like Alice has a basis in fact as far as the treatment of prisoners by the Japanese while On the Beach comes across almost as science fiction. So the dated part has to do with people's fear of what might happen if ... which was the mindset at that time.


Carolyn (in SC) C234D | 82 comments I really enjoy Nevil Shute's writing. I read A TOWN LIKE ALICE several years ago and gave it 4 stars. I also gave that rating to THE RAINBOW AND THE ROSE. I would search for more of his many titles if I didn't have so many unread books on my shelves.


message 17: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Oct 31, 2011 01:33PM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I am about half way through the book and have to say I so admire the "stiff upper lip" of our heroine. She does not even know how brave she is and just accepts the responsibility of seeing for the other women and children as if it were nothing. She is constantly surprised by the "acclaim" she at times receives or the notoriety of what she accomplished. She is a true hero, not boastful, just accepting things as the are.

Do you think we are all capable of that, or do you think she was somehow special, a special woman for a special time? Does circumstance makes her heroic or would she have. Established herself in another way?


message 18: by Bobbie (last edited Oct 31, 2011 02:28PM) (new)

Bobbie (bobbie572002) | 1084 comments Do you think we are all capable of that, or do you think she was somehow special, a special woman for a special time? Does circumstance makes her heroic or would she have. Established herself in another way?


Good question Maryalyce. I don't think we are all capable of that but many people are. We see heroic acts fairly often and then people will insist that they are not heroes. So it is the circumstance perhaps but also I think an understanding of your own capabilities. More people are followers than leaders and I think most wait for someone else to take charge.
I think she was able to make decisions and follow through on them and so she didn't think she was brave. She was just doing what she "had to do." Great character.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) She is a great character. I do love strong female characters. I wonder too, if her being unmarried and childless made a difference inher? (I know she did take over the care of that young child though)


message 20: by Bea (new)

Bea | 18 comments What I loved about Jean was that it seemed she was always thinking about the good of the group or community in the long run. She was a natural leader. I think she would have been just the same if married. She did have one unique advantage though. (view spoiler)


message 21: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments Welcome to Book Nook Cafe, Bea !

Thanks so much for joining in our Group Read.


message 22: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Oct 31, 2011 04:02PM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Very true, Bea. That certainly separated her from thee restas she seemed quite comfortable in that culture. Her dress, her stance, her manners were all done with respect for culture. She even behaved culturally respectful to her captors.


message 23: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 1208 comments I agree with Bobbie. Some people are followers and some are leaders. She also did have the language skills which also pushed her into that position. But if it is part of who you are to lead and do what needs to be done, you aren't necessarily going to think you did anything special and thus will be surprised at people thinking you are a hero.


message 24: by Madrano (new)

Madrano (madran) | 3732 comments Marialyce wrote: "Do you think we are all capable of that, or do you think she was somehow special, a special woman for a special time? Does circumstance makes her heroic or would she have. Established herself in another way? ..."

It is a good question and i think others here have answered the way i do. What made it easier for her, i think, is that she not only was unencumbered but also young. Her youth may have prevented her from realizing her efforts were extraordinary. She just did it. And others followed, which is the second mark of a leader, imo.

The story of the women reminds me of a movie about women imprisoned by the Japanese in WWII, Paradise. It starred Glen Close and Frances McDormand, among others. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradise...

While talking to Noel, Jean said, "People who spent the war in prison camps have written a lot of books about what a bad time they had....They don’t know what it was like, not being in a camp." I appreciated that observation. A couple of times she references the fact that they needed to have at least one Japanese soldier with them, just so they could be taken care of, feeble as that was. It really puts a different line of thinking into our minds, doesn't it?

It also puts a different spin on "women & children first". Apparently this means, except in war, where supplies and soldiers are priorities. I felt Shute did a good job of detailing the problems the prisoners encounter--hunger, illness, discomfort of sleeping, burial issues, cleanliness and on.

deborah


message 25: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Nov 01, 2011 09:54AM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) It struck me the same way, Deb. It was as if life might have been a bit better, or at least better organized in a camp. On the outside, the women fended for themselves, finding food, shelter, medicine etc. while in a camp, these things as meager as they were, were provided for you.

After reading Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption however, I wonder if the presentation of the camps was understated.

As I said, I am in the middle of the book and can't help but see the similarities between
the barreness of the Austrailia's outback as compared to the American Midwest of the
1800's. Did anyone else see a similarity? What about the mention of a gold rush? Does
anyone think we share more of the Austrailian heritage than perhaps we realize?


message 26: by Madrano (new)

Madrano (madran) | 3732 comments Early in our marriage, around '70, we considered moving to Australia. One appeal was the country itself and another was that after a year or two (i've forgotten how many now), your moving cost was returned to you (probably up to a certain amount). However, one of the first things i read was that they were 15-20 years behind the US in living comforts, including air conditioning. Well, this Texas livin' woman put the brakes on no a/c immediately.

I don't think that lagging standard is true today (if we are to believe "House Hunters International) but i am rather glad we didn't migrate there. While different in its own way, it's not exotic as i really wanted. Nowadays i can't even generate enthusiasm for a vacation there.

It seems the barrenness is considerable. For my money, the ham radios would make a world of difference, though. I hadn't connected the gold rush to the US, but you make a good point, Marialyce.

One interesting aspect of this novel is the way the story is divided. The part set in England was fine, but then we are transported to the incredible Malay storyline. Then, he throws in the Australian bits. It took me a bit to get adjusted to that final part, as i was solid with the way the prisoner story went.

deb


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I felt the same way, Deb. I really wanted the Malay part to be the bulk of the book. I was somewhat disappointed that it wasn't.

Do you think that since the narrator was a lawyer that he had to relate all the details? I found the radio dialogue a bit .....well redundant and boring sorry to say.

I know Shute was an engineer of sorts and being married to one, I know they can be very particular and focused on the how of things. I felt Shute to be like that.


message 28: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 1208 comments Madrano wrote: "One interesting aspect of this novel is the way the story is divided. The part set in England was fine, but then we are transported to the incredible Malay storyline. Then, he throws in the Australian bits. It took me a bit to get adjusted to that final part, as i was solid with the way the prisoner story went...."

I am still not adjusted. I was definately liking the book a whole lot more earlier on than I am now.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) I know what you are saying, Julie. I think our expectations were high considering the beginning.


message 30: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments I just started the book (chapter 1) and I am enjoying the writing quite a bit. It has a nice old British feel to it.


message 31: by Bea (new)

Bea | 18 comments I really enjoyed the Australia parts. I thought what Jean did in Australia was just as awesome - (view spoiler), if not so dramatic, as what she did in Malaya. I've finished the book and can't remember whether the Australia part started slow.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Bea, she was quite a low keyed determined woman for sure. I thought her character too be amazing. It was not her (view spoiler)

I am glad you enjoyed the Australia part. It somehow amazed me that she and Joe finally did reconnect.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) The protagonists share the attitudes of the time: Aborigines are referred to as "boongs" or "abos". It is also assumed that non-whites must use different shops and bars from whites and that they are less reliable than whites. But these attitudes are often presented not in a racistic, but an ironic sense: for example, the captive British women are completely lost, because the only Malayan words they have learned are orders for their Malayan servants, while Jean survives by use of her language skills and her willingness to live the Malayan way.
Another theme is the situation of women in Western and Asian society at that period. For example, Jean Paget is not given full control of the money she inherited from her uncle, but has her capital managed by male lawyers. Also the Malayan women are subject to their husbands. Jean Paget makes a move toward female emancipation by digging a well in a Malayan village, so that the women of this village no longer have to carry their water for two miles each day, and also have a meeting place next to the well where they can discuss village affairs without being heard by the male villagers. However, this must be done with the approval of the men.
A third theme is that of entrepreneurship, and especially the role that entrepreneurs may play in community building. Instead of living on the income from her inheritance, Jean Paget puts it to good use to make Willstown a better place. A fourth and allegorical theme is the gift and resurrection of the crucified Christ.

Thought this might spur some conversation. It was from wiki.


message 34: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie (bobbie572002) | 1084 comments I had thought that the main focus of the book was going to be the wartime and honestly I was beginning to have had enough. So for me was glad for the shift.

While in real life her reconnection with Joe might have been a stretch, I really felt that it was clearly foreshadowed. So as an element of a novel it worked for me.

Given the time of the setting it was not only the story of entrepreneurship but that it was carried out by a woman. Not so usual for a woman. It made her character even more remarkable.


message 35: by Madrano (new)

Madrano (madran) | 3732 comments Marialyce wrote: "Do you think that since the narrator was a lawyer that he had to relate all the details? I found the radio dialogue a bit .....well redundant and boring sorry to say...."

Interesting question. While i, too, felt all the short wave talk was WAY overdone, generally speaking i didn't reel there was too much detail (in most of the book) for my reading pleasure. Indeed, there was a point where i wondered what Noel's adult children thought of his apparent fascination with Jean's life. (Of course, that is the focus of his book so maybe would be minor in the life of a person.)

I am positive i wouldn't have cut any of the wartime stuff. The British parts were integral, imo, to understand the legacy and how Noel & Jean interacted, including that he introduced her to some cultured productions. It was the Australian part (view spoiler) that i felt were too much. But even most of that played into the way things developed.

I had no problem with the ethnic attitudes, as i felt they were probably accurate. That we see Jean working within those contexts helps make the book a solid piece of work, imo. The same is true of the way the uncle's will was constructed--it seemed a valid portrayal.

deborah


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) In so many ways, the Australian part reminded me of the United States. We were both young under explored countries, connected through the telegraph and radio latter on. What made Jean the way she was? The author does not answer that for us. Did he give us clues?

Do you think you as a woman of today could have lived and thrived in this enviorment.


message 37: by Bea (new)

Bea | 18 comments Not me. But I have not survived a 2 year march through the jungle in Malaya. The first settlers of the U.S. and the pioneers either died or figured out a way to thrive.

I've traveled and lived abroad a lot. In my opinion, Australians are more like Americans than any other nationality in the world. I think it has to do with the frontier mentality.

I tend to think Jean was born with her resilience and imagination. Malaya made her an expert at making the best of a bad situation. Ninety-nine out of a hundred women probably would have taken one look at Joe's hometown and started a pitched campaign for a move to a more "civilized" location. Jean chose to make the hometown a more civilized location.

The Australia parts of the book had the same fascination for me as the "Little House on the Prairie" series.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Great comparison, Bea.

I know I would have folded immediately. I am not the outdoorsy type and went camping one. That was enough for me.

Australia was used as a type of penal colony by the British In 1788. Instead of using slavery, the government decided to use convicts. They were cheap and getting rid of them alleviated the overcrowding in British jails. Many times these men were skilled workers who wound up in prison for trivial infractions. They were to serve seven years and then were given a tract of land to farm. This all began in New South Wales.

Fascinating beginning in this island continent!


message 39: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 1208 comments I finished the book.
Is anyone else bothered by the fact that a woman with no business skills (other than typing and shorthand) managed to (view spoiler) For some reason this bothers me quite a bit about the book. Everything else I enjoyed for the most part though.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Julie, yes, she was a most single handedly successfully woman. It did stretch the imagination a bit. Then again, she did have money behind her and that did help her to achieve her goals. I wonder if she would have been able to do what she did on a much more limited scale, if she did not have money?

That brings up a question. Did you find the book believable. Was it what you expected?


message 41: by Alias Reader (last edited Nov 04, 2011 06:54AM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments Discussion up to page 188 - Chapter 6 to follow



I just started chapter 6. I'm enjoying the book, but this section where she is and Joe are missing each other is starting to annoy me. Enough already !

I hope this isn't going to just become a romance book.

So far my favorite character is the lawyer Noel.


message 42: by Alias Reader (last edited Nov 04, 2011 07:12AM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments I looked over the discussion questions in post # 2 before I started the book.

Q -What significance are Jean Paget's ice skates and boots in the novel?

I just started chapter 6, but it's interesting how many times feet/shoes are mentioned. So far:
-skating boots
- Jean walks bare foot along the long hike
- p 113. Japanese Sargent falls ill. He goes barefoot.
- p 96 swap boots for soap.
- page 159 Harman lost one shoe.
- p 161 - "Will it be all right if I come round later in the day and leave these shoes with the women?"

I am not sure what this symbolizes.


message 43: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments Page 115 Chapter 4

It's interesting the reversal of care with the sick guard. A bit of Stockholm syndrome ?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockhol...


message 44: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments chapter 5 page 152

Latin phrase ? I had no idea what this meant. I've not read Horace, so this went totally over my head. I didn't realize when the author wrote, "I could not bear to go on reading Horace after that, and I sat think of of sweetly smiling, soft-spoken Lalage on her way to Alice Springs in a long-distance bus...."
that he was translating the phrase.

From a web search it seems to mean:

shall still love sweetly laughing, sweetly speaking Lalage” (Odes I. 22. 21--4).


message 45: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments Page 8

Some of the slang I don't know.

Plus fours are breeches or trousers that extend 4 inches (10 cm) below the knee (and thus four inches longer than traditional knickerbockers, hence the name). As they allow more freedom of movement than knickerbockers, they have been traditionally associated with sporting attire from the 1860s and onward, and are particularly associated with golf.

The wiki link has a picture.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plus_fours


message 46: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments I'll admit I hadn't heard of Malaya.

The Malay Peninsula or Thai-Malay Peninsula (Malay: Semenanjung Tanah Melayu, Thai: คาบสมุทรมลายู) is a peninsula in Southeast Asia. The land mass runs approximately north-south and, at its terminus, is the southern-most point of the Asian mainland. The area contains the southernmost tip of Burma, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, and Southern Thailand.

The Titiwangsa Mountains are part of the Tenasserim Hills system, and form the backbone of the Peninsula. They form the southernmost section of the central cordillera which runs from Tibet through the Kra Isthmus (the Peninsula's narrowest point) into the Malay peninsula.[1] The Strait of Malacca separates the Malay Peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra while the south coast is separated from the island of Singapore by the Straits of Johor.

The Malay term Tanah Melayu (literally: 'The Malay Land') is generally used by the Malays and occasionally used in political discourse to describe uniting all ethnic Malay people on the peninsula under one Malay nation, although this ambition was largely realised with the creation of Malaysia.

Wiki link for a picture
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_Pe...


Name change:

* The Malayan Union (1946-1948), a post-war British colony consisting of all states in British Malaya except Singapore.

* The Federation of Malaya (1948-1963), the successor to the Malayan Union (also excluding Singapore), which gained independence within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1957.

* Present-day Peninsular Malaysia (1963-present), also formally known as the States of Malaya or West Malaysia, includes the states and territories formerly composing the Federation of Malaya.


message 47: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments


message 48: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments


message 49: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments Alice Springs is the second largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. Popularly known as "the Alice" or simply "Alice", Alice Springs is situated in the geographic centre of Australia near the southern border of the Northern Territory.[2] The site is known as Mparntwe to its original inhabitants, the Arrernte, who have lived in the Central Australian desert in and around what is now Alice Springs for thousands of years. Alice Springs has a population of 27,481 people, which makes up 12 percent of the territory's population.[1] Alice averages 576 metres (1,890 ft) above sea level;[citation needed] the town is nearly equidistant from Adelaide and Darwin.[citation needed]

The town of Alice Springs straddles the usually dry Todd River on the northern side of the MacDonnell Ranges. The region where Alice Springs is located is known as Central Australia, or the Red Centre, and is an arid environment consisting of several different deserts. In Alice Springs, temperatures can vary dramatically with an average maximum temperature in summer of 35.6 °C (96.1 °F), and an average minimum temperature in winter of 5.1 °C (41.2 °F).[3]

Population: 27,481 (2008)[1]
• Density: 178/km² (461.0/sq mi)
Established: 1872

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Sp...


message 50: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17158 comments


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