Recent Reading: The Narrow Road to the Deep North

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I started reading Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North on this research trip, and I can’t put it down.  I also can’t quite manage to carry a copy of it with me (I’ve got to keep my luggage lithe and light on this trip).  So I’ve been picking up a copy of Flanagan’s novel every time I set foot in a bookstore and reading a dozen pages of it each time.

His writing is so rich and lyrical.  “Why at the beginning of things is there always light?” the novel starts.  “Dorrigo Evans’ earliest memories were of sun flooding a church hall in which he sat with his mother and grandmother.  A wooden church hall.   Blinding light and him toddling back and forth, in and out of its transcendent welcome, into the arms of women.  Women who loved him.  Like entering the sea and returning to the beach.  Over and over.”

I’m transfixed by the lyricism and syntax of that opening, and by the sense of this writer’s authority .  The perspective is unexpected in modern fiction: a third that is both intimate and distant.  We occupy a sweep of time.

And there is a sentence like this:

“Backdropped by woodlands of writhing peppermint gums and silver wattle that waved and danced in the heat, it was hot and hard in summer, and hard, simply hard, in winter.”

Which is so perfectly evocative and so fully rendered it takes my breath away.

Set in Tasmania and then in a Japanese POW camp during the war, the novel feels like apt reading for me at this juncture in my story collection — and my research trip.

I cannot wait to see how Flanagan realizes the rest of this novel, which I have ordered from Powells (where I have been reading it the last few days) and which will be waiting for me when I get back home.