The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

Ohh dear, I didn’t quite love this one as much I was hoping to. I may have suffered from too high expectations here. Don’t get me wrong this is an important and beautifully written novel. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a harsh but beautiful account of how war ravages us all, of life and death, expectations and truth and everything in between. This book for the most part follows Dorry Evans and his life before and after the war where he served as an Australian surgeon in WWII and found himself a POW in a Japanese camp. We also follow the paths of his comrades as they struggle with a daily battle for life in the harshest of conditions and, uniquely, those holding them captive: Japanese and Korean officers upholding the will of the Emperor.


At first I found the changes in time, pre-war past, the war and post-war present and then the changes of perspective at little difficult to follow. It took probably the first half of the novel to find my feet. By the second half I was settled and enjoyed the rest of the novel a lot more. The writing in this novel was beautiful. Flanagan has a gift with words and I loved his prose, the beautiful passages about life and death. They were bleak but beautiful showing the ugly flaws of humanity at it’s worst, and yet, small pockets of hope and mateship. I feel as though this was a realistic narrative of war showing both the ramifications during the experience, as well as, quite importantly how it affects life afterwards.


Once I had settled into the book I loved the mixture of perspectives. Each unique story showed the variety of paths that were taken and a range of reactions that are each acutely realistic. The language and descriptions were perfection. Flanagan puts the reader directly in each of the character’s shoes. He describes not only what the scenery looked like but what it smelt like so the reader feels like they are right there too. I also loved that Flanagan included perspectives from the enemy, the Japanese, both during and post-war. It truly shows than no one thinks of themselves as the villain, everyone is working for the greater good and their side is correct. I enjoyed the way Flanagan captured the Japanese psyche of honour. Upholding their honour is paramount and this aspect is captured perfectly in the text.


The one  thing I did not like was Dorrigo and Amy’s love affair pre-war. I found their story frustrating, their actions pointless and selfish and after it all they never fought for each other. I did think that Flanagan nailed post-war Dorry and how he copes and inserts himself back into society. I do know that this is a book I would like to read again in the future further down the track, without expectations to see if my opinion changes. Overall, it is an intimate and realistic portrayal of war and all it’s consequences and I understand why this is such a celebrated novel. Flanagan is a gifted writer and I look forward to reading more of his work. I give The Narrow Road to the Deep North three stars, which I hope to increase in the future.


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