There are books that you hear about for years from numerous readers. They say that it can take three times for you to hear about a book before you read it. So, there are times when it can be difficult to discern why it may have taken you 50 times before you finally pick a book up and read it.
After 50 odd name-drops I finally got around to reading Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice. What took me so long? I even bought the book 2 years ago, with its lovely reprinted cover!
A Town Like Alice is narrated by a London attorney, Noel Strachan, who oversees a trust that is bestowed on a young woman, Jean Paget, that he must oversee, at her late uncle’s behest, until she turns 35. The choice of narrator is a topic ripe for discussion, because while Jean comes across as a truly remarkable woman the narration manages to convey this with the unromanticized tone of articulate reportage.
Jean Paget, raised in Scotland and Malay, returns to Malay before WWII and is swept up unwittingly in the invasion of Malay by the Japanese. Jean becomes corralled with a group of women and children and led on a death march for seven months through rural towns in search of a camp. Her experiences as a prisoner of war become the defining moments that fuel how Jean chooses to use the fortune she inherits.
A Town Like Alice unfolds to expose the traumatic reality of war for civilians and the resilience of spirit in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. In Jean Paget Nevil Shute has created a memorable character, a character quietly devoted to making life better for herself and others.