Friday, September 25, 2015
Book Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Author: Richard Flanagan
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Content Alert: War, sex, language-- it's definitely a book for adults
Dorrigo Evans is a fine doctor, although what would have been his crowing achievement as a surgeon, a new cancer surgery, didn't work out. Although he's been married for many years, he's a complete failure as a husband, and a minor failure as a father, a role that seems almost forgotten as he nears the end of his life. He's been a serial adulterer forever. He once knew true love. And a long, long time ago, he led a group of POWs in Burma during World War II. For that, the people of Australia consider him one of their greatest heroes.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a complicated book. The narration, which goes back from the 1910s and forward to the 1990s with many stops in between, isn't always easy to follow. Dorrigo's motivations are often unclear as well. Why does he act so nobly on behalf of his men, dying by the dozens as they work to build a train line, but so ignobly at home? Does the loss of one love kill all other opportunities for love? What purpose does sex serve when it doesn't bring two people together? The Narrow Road to the Deep North is beautifully written and very thought-provoking. There's a scene toward the end of the novel when he sees a woman he hasn't seen in years which is possibly the loveliest and most painful thing I've read in my life. It's not an easy read, but it as a rewarding one.