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341 - Recommended Reading - A Town Like Alice

Anthony Gardner (Standard British accent)

Nevil Shute’s novel A Town Like Alice is one that has fascinated me for... for quite a while. It’s not a complex book but it’s... it’s a puzzling one: it has a very unusual structure; the language itself is quite straightforward. Nevil Shute is often described as a “storyteller,” which is usually a polite way of saying this person can’t write particularly well, but he can... he can spin a good yarn! A Town Like Alice is a story based in the Second World War and at the heart of it is the experience based on a true story of a group of women who were taken prisoner by the Japanese in Malaysia when the Japanese invaded. The Japanese didn’t have a prison camp or any... anywhere obvious to... to confine them and they found themselves being forced to march backwards and forwards across the country between different officials, none of whom wanted to take responsibility for them, and they were... they fell prey to exhaustion, disease – half of them died on the journey – but some of them managed to... to survive, and the heroine of the story, Jean Paget, is a woman who’s been through this experience. In itself it’s a very strong story but Nevil Shute for reasons known best to himself decided to put it along(side) two other stories, so he framed it, first of all by... with the narrative of an elderly Scottish solicitor who has acted as Jean Paget’s uncle’s executor, and he has to track her down as the heir to her uncle’s estate and although he’s now in his 70s and a widower, and she’s in her mid-20s, he falls in love with her, so there’s an element of romance there. And then the other element is to do... to do with Australia, the title A Town Like Alice refers to the town of Alice Springs in the middle of the Australian outback. And this is another love story: in Malaysia Jean Paget, during the war, meets an Australian prisoner of war who helps her and her companions – takes great risks on their behalf and eventually suffers a terrible fate at the hands of the Japanese, and as far as she’s concerned, she’s never going to see him again, but it turns out otherwise; I won’t go into more detail. So it’s a sort of intriguing literary conundrum, but also a very... very entertaining and moving book to read and I would... I would strongly recommend it.

(Anthony Gardner was talking to Mark Worden)

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