Title: A Town Like Alice
Author: Nevil Shute
A Town Like Alice was a bargain book at Audible a few weeks ago, and somehow it ended up in my cart. I'd never heard of it and didn't know anything about the storyline when I started reading. When the prim British actor started reading a story set in the 1940s, I wasn't sure I would keep listening, but by the time I finished my first drive with the book on the iPod, I was hooked. I listened to all eleven hours in just a few days.
If you're looking for a story with twists and turns and a realistic but potentially unhappy ending, in other words, if you want a book of serious literary fiction, A Town Like Alice might not satisfy. Set in England, Malaysia and Australia, the epic romantic nature of the book reminds me of The Thorn Birds or The Lonesome Dove, or like what The English Patient could have been if they'd all lived happily ever after. Jean Padgett, a London shorthand typist, comes into a legacy of 52,000 pounds and can quit her job and return to Malaysia, where she was kept in a POW camp during WWII. While imprisoned, she met an Aussie POW who sacrificed himself for the women in Jean's group. Once Jean arrives in Malaysia, she realizes she won't have closure on her POW experience until she travels to Australia. Once there, she decides to use her capital to help revive a remote Australian village.
While A Town Like Alice might be categorized as a romance, there are so many other things going on that it doesn't feel like one. It's certainly not a bodice ripper (although there is one steamily chaste scene), and while romance is definitely part of the story, and you finish the book feeling like all things have come together for good, there are lots of hard things that happen too. The narrative, told from the perspective of Noel Strachan, Jean's London solicitor, adds an interesting dimension to the novel as well.