The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Posted December 14, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard FlanaganTitle: The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Goodreads)
Author: Richard Flanagan
Published: Vintage, 2013
Pages: 467
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Narrow Road to the Deep North follows the story of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by his past; life in Tasmania, a love affair with his uncle’s wife, World War 2 and so on. At the heart of the story is his horrific time in a Japanese slave labour camp as a prisoner of war working on the Burma death railway. Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho’s travel journal, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is about the impossibility of love.

I started reading this book at the beginning of my recent reading slump, I felt so much pressure to try and get it read before my local book club. As a result, I wasn’t able to finish it in time and I ended up putting this aside half read. I obviously went back to the book and finished it, but I think it did play a big role in my enjoyment of the novel.

This is my first Richard Flanagan novel; I have heard a lot about him, but never had a chance to try him out before. The Narrow Road to the Deep North is about the harshness of war, not just the struggle of trying to survive the battlefield, or being a prisoner of war. This goes further and looks at trying to survive post war. I’ve read some great novels similar to this; Catch 22, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Yellow Bird, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and The Machine come to mind. So I felt that I ended up using these novels as the measuring stick and The Narrow Road to the Deep North just didn’t feel like it covered the topic properly.

I felt like this book also tried to be an epic novel, following the exquisite pain of Dorrigo Evans’s life. Then I got halfway through the novel and wasn’t sure how it could cover the entire life in so little pages. I normally associate epics with great big books and if this book covered more of Dorrigo’s life then it could have fit this genre.

Flanagan focuses on not just the cruelty of war and it’s after effects but the impossibility of love, especially when so damaged. I think this was the major theme Flanagan wanted to explore, more than war and the Burma death railway. The relationship between his uncle’s wife Amy and then his girlfriend Ella play a big role in exploring Dorrigo’s life and the pain he suffers. Forbidden love and the relationship everyone expects from him; this is what I think the author wanted to explore.

I really enjoyed the style of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, so much so that I think it could have been a future Australian classic. The main problem was some parts go on for pages in great detail and then others were just glossed over. There was no consistency and in a great epic novel, you expect the same amount of detail in everything happening. Sure some parts deserve more time but I think there were something interesting points that needed to be focused on a lot more. This is a good novel that could have been great; I think that is what frustrated me the most about The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

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