The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014) **Winner of The Man Booker Prize 2014** “Daring … Captivating … Often unbearably powerful … The Narrow Road to the Deep North [will draw you] into dark contemplation the way only the most extraordinary books...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.

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14 Comments

  1. This book jumps out at me every time I’m anywhere with lots of books. I’ve never picked it up to find out more. So now I know – thanks! I can’t decide whether I’d love this or not. I tend to shy away from the award winners because they make enjoying the reading so difficult (for me). I’m intrigued, however.

  2. I can see what you mean in terms of expectations and not realising there was a love story incorporated. I loved this book but the love for it did take a while to sneak up on me. I found the love story integral to showing a side of the main character that was missing but also explained a lot about him in war. Wasn’t it a horrific time in humanity’s past? I too was not really up on the facts of the Thai-Burma Railway aspect. I am the opposite: I would never normally read a war story, don’t like them at all. I read this because it is Richard Flanagan and he is sublime. Read Death of a River Guide. It will stay with you for ages. Sound of One Hand Clapping may possibly head too much towards the love story for you. Thanks for the review.

  3. I really enjoyed this book and became far more engrossed than what I had anticipated. The love story part of the plot was less interesting for me compared to the POW parts, which I thought were extraordinary.

  4. The book was everywhere I went, so I eventually picked in a bookshop (Daunts).
    I’d say it’s one of the best I’ve read. He is very economical, in the sense that he doesn’t linger around; the end of the war came pretty quickly. He is really good at depicting scenes, and one of the things I loved best with this book is how balanced it is. Flanagan introduces the readers to the concept of ‘bushido’ so that we’re not too quick to judge the Japanese. And some of the haikus were so beautiful. It seems like some minor characters have stories of their own with their own beginnings and endings. For me, it is a complete novel on so many levels. I learned a lot from it.

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