I picked up The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan largely because it won the 2014 Man Booker Prize and I wanted something meaty. I went in with the preconceived notion that it was a story about Australian POWs in Burma during WWII – and that is certainly one way of selling it. But I was truly surprised by the sensuality of the love story that surrounds the story of one of the POWs. There was a tenderness to the novel that I was not expecting (and which, quite frankly, isn’t really my cup of tea). So while I did not entirely enjoy The Narrow Road To The Deep North, I can see why Flanagan won such a prestigious award for it.
To simplify things enormously, this is a novel with two stories – one war story and one love story. As horrifying as parts of the war story were, it was the portion of the novel that I preferred and it was what I was looking for. I was interested in learning more about WWII in Asia, and the harsh realities that accompanied it. The Japanese labour camps were horrific and that anyone survived them is a miracle.
Who would like this book? If you’re looking for a meaty and tragic love story set over the backdrop of war, The Narrow Road may be for you. The writing is exceptional and truly worthy of a Booker Prize. I think Richard Flanagan should be on more people’s reading lists if they enjoy literary fiction. Looking at his back list, there are certainly one or two other of his books that I’m interested in reading.