Every year, I try to keep up with the major book prize winners. I have not cracked open any of the Pulitzer or National Book Award winners recently (but The Goldfinch is on my list, I swear!), but I’ve done okay with the Man Booker Prize winners (and I don’t get any chance to read most of the finalists–time is not on my side, sadly). I read 2013’s winner The Luminaries this year and loved it. So when this year’s winner was also an ANZAC writer, I was intrigued–Eleanor Catton is from New Zealand, Richard Flanagan from Australia. I’m excited for a chance to read more literature from a Commonwealth/global perspective.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North focuses on a well-known subject–World War II–and adds new and agonizing dimensions. Much of the story is told in flashbacks from past to present to past again. Dorrigo Evans is a surgeon for the Allies in the Australian army, when he is captured and taken to a Japanese POW camp. Here, Flanagan chronicles the horrors of the camp and the characters inhabiting various roles, just as he moves back to Dorrigo’s brief affair with his uncle’s much younger second wife and then forward again to the post-war effects on contemporary life.
This is a tragic, beautifully-written novel. I had to put it down a few times to absorb ome of the awful fates realized by the soldiers. Dorrigo’s own conflict after the war is deeply moving and rendered powerfully. Flanagan is a skillful writer and he evokes setting, plot, and characterization in proficient ways. I definitely plan to read more of his work, and I cannot recommend this novel. Well done, Booker Committee!