My mother gave me A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute when I was about 11, insisting that it was a wonderful novel.
At this distance, I can’t remember why I didn’t read it. Probably I just thought Yeah, right, and found something else.
And yet, now I have finally read it, she was, and is, absolutely right. (Drat; isn’t it annoying when mothers are right, as they so often are?!)
Published in 1950, A Town Like Alice is the story of Jean Paget, a girl who spent the war years in Malaya, one of a group of women and children captured by the Japanese and marched from town to town in search of a (non-existent) POW camp. It is narrated by Noel Strachan, an almost-retired solicitor, who becomes Jean’s trustee when she inherits a small fortune from an uncle in 1948. Jean’s first thought is to return to Malaya.
One of the things I like about Shute’s writing is the way sentences just, sort of, unfurl. They aren’t noticeably short or staccato, to build tension, and the chapters are longer than a couple of pages. And yet they draw you in. (And are beautifully put together.)
The narrator feels a bit detached, building the complete picture, rather than rushing through to get to the end. Perhaps it’s beca You can enjoy the journey, not just be glad it turns out all right.
This is not to say that A Town Like Alice isn’t an emotional ride. It is; it absolutely is. I read it in an afternoon and am still thinking about it months later. It’s the sort of story that stays with you.
A Town Like Alice is a story of survival, of perseverance and recovery. And I can’t recommend it enough.