Flashback Friday: A Town Like Alice

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

(first published 1950)

From Goodreads:

Nevil Shute’s most beloved novel, a tale of love and war, follows its enterprising heroine from the Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback.

Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman living in Malaya, is captured by the invading Japanese and forced on a brutal seven-month death march with dozens of other women and children. A few years after the war, Jean is back in England, the nightmare behind her. However, an unexpected inheritance inspires her to return to Malaya to give something back to the villagers who saved her life. But it turns out that they have a gift for her as well: the news that the young Australian soldier, Joe Harmon, who had risked his life to help the women, had miraculously survived. Jean’s search for Joe leads her to a desolate Australian outpost called Willstown, where she finds a challenge that will draw on all the resourcefulness and spirit that carried her through her war-time ordeals.

It’s hard to neatly sum up A Town Like Alice. Part of it is a moving, horrifying account of a death march during World War II, in which civilians women and children suffered and died. Great courage and sacrifice move the story forward, and this segment of the book concludes with terrible events and a tragic outcome. From there, the narrative moves into the story of a woman rebuilding her life, determined to make a difference, and not fitting the mold of a complacent, wealthy Englishwoman. The remainder of the book is filled with adventure, and is part frontier drama and part romance. That’s a lot to fit into a not particularly long book (the mass market paperback version is under 300 pages), but gifted author Nevil Shute pulls it off.

A Town Like Alice takes place in gorgeous, rough, wild settings include Malayan jungles and the Australian Outback. The characters are heroic and steely, and Jean herself is a delight. Nevil Shute’s writing conveys the terror of war and the triumph of human spirit. This is just a lovely, lovely book, and although it’s been many years since I read it, I remember certain parts of it quite vividly, and always list it among my favorites.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that way back when there was a TV mini-series of A Town Like Alice, with a very photogenic cast:

I have no idea if the TV series itself would be worth watching today or if it would feel tremendously dated, but I’m willing to bet that the book holds up quite nicely. If you’ve read it, let me know what you think!

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!

5 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: A Town Like Alice

  1. I’m surprised that you’ve skimmed over the very troubling racism in this book. While ‘of it’s time’, it still raised my eyebrows and dated the book quite significantly for me.

    • As you say, I’m taking it as being a snapshot of the time and setting in which it was written. Many “older” books are imperfect when viewed through the lens of today. I still find much of value and beauty in the author’s writing and in the characters that he’s created.

    • The only other book I’ve read by Nevil Shute is On The Beach, which is a whole different animal. Actually, I was thinking that I should do a “cold war/nuclear terror” post, either for Flashback Friday or on its own, and On The Beach would definitely make the list! I would like to get to some of this author’s other works as well on of these days.

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