Monday, January 12, 2015

A Town Like Alice: The Review

A war novel, or more precisely a postwar novel.
Nevil Shute takes us along a journey from Malaya to England to Australia, in a very uplifting story about a woman having the courage of ten men and the intelligence of a hundred.

Jean Paget is the protagonist of the story, but she's so much more. If this book should've been named Jean it would've been a title as fit as the one it bears.
You start out the story from the perspective of the sollicitor of her uncle, who is writing his will and is being extra careful if his estate should befall on a woman in her early twenties.

What happens is a trust that is to be released when she reaches the age of 36, an age where even a woman alone might not be daunted in having a lot of money suddenly.

Due to the war the trust befalls on Jean. Her mother died in the blitz and her brother died in a prison camp in Malaya building the famous bridge. She herself was also in Malaya when Japan crossed its borders. Too late to evacuate she's herded along with a pack of women all across Malaya in search for a prison camp for women but in the end they make do in a small village, living there three years as if they were natives.

On their travels she meets a guy, Joe Harman,  who goes out of his way to provide the fellowship with a few extras, ultimately ending in a horrible punishment, which leads Jean to think he's not alive anymore.

After the war she went back to England, where she leads a modest life until she hears of the inheritance that befell her. She decides to do something back for the native town that had been a home for her for three years.
Little did she know that travelling back to Malaya would bring back a chance on a future she could never have dreamt of.
She learns that Joe is still alive and well in Australia and she ends up visiting him.
This is the only thing in the novel that bothered me a little because the time she visiting him, he's on a plane to England searching her out. It's a little too picture perfect for them to be looking for each other the exact same time.

But in the end they meet in Australia and their love blooms. Joe Harman, being a manager of a herd of cows and a vast space of land, doesn't live in a very attractive part of Australia, but Jean is determined to make it work. Having had to wait on Joe for him to return from England she's seeing ways to improve life in the little town.

It starts with a shoe factory and an ice cream shop, but as years pass she takes good use of the money left to her. With an entrepreneurs heart she sees the things the town and its people need and sets out to make it happen.

The novel is a little naive in its premise, because who has got it all?
Maybe the war has something to do with Jean's desperate urge to build something from nothing. She's shrewd to a point when it benefits the town, but has an altruistic heart for anyone needing her.
It was a story that made me smile, with the happy ending and all. It's something most of us want to believe in, that from something horrible and heartbreaking, another beautiful and inspiring future can be build.