Thursday, February 9, 2012

15/100: Neville Shute - A Town Like Alice

Neville Shute - A Town Like Alice 
(First published 1950.  This edition 2004, Redwood Editions)
(Book 15/100 for 2012)

A Town Like Alice makes me think a bit of my Uncle Dave - my grandfather's older brother.  Dave was a prisoner-of-war in camps in South-East Asia and Japan during the Second World War.  A family story is that Dave celebrated his 21st birthday in the prison camp, and received an orange and a tin of condensed milk!  

I never really spoke to Uncle Dave about his war experiences, and it's too late to ask him now as he died a couple of years ago.  But I know that he never harboured any ill-feelings towards the Japanese for his imprisonment.  Reading about Jean and Joe's experiences in Malaya (now Malaysia) gave me a better picture of what Uncle Dave might have gone through, and it's made me want to know more about Australia's part in the Second World War.

A Town Like Alice also makes me think of my own travels through outback Australia.  Admittedly, that was nearly 20 years ago, and I was eight years old at the time, but I can still remember bits!  I wonder how Willstown (presumably named after this bloke) fared later on?  Did it stay a prosperous town, or decline a second time?  In our travels we passed through ghost towns and small hamlets with usually just a pub, a shop and a petrol pump - if that.  We also went to Green Island, off Cairns, and I have this cinematic scene in my head of Jean and Joe on that beach in the sunset, the music swelling as they realise they're madly in love with each other.

One small criticism of A Town Like Alice is that the language used made me feel a bit uncomfortable - referring to Aborigines as "boongs" and so forth.  I know, though, that it is a product of its time, and Shute doesn't write with any malice.  It's just the way it was back then.

A Town Like Alice has made me want to travel!  I want to visit all the places I went to all those years ago, and see what's changed, and see what's stayed the same.  I'd better learn to drive, and start saving..

Want to read more about this book?  
Roger Bourke - 'Cultural depth-charges': Traditional meaning and prisoner-of-war fiction

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