Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

Richard Flanagan's story of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle's wife, journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 
Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho's travel journal, The Narrow Road To The Deep North is about the impossibility of love. At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds.

Review: I don’t have words for this book. Seriously, the English language does not have words to describe how I felt while I was reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It has taken me days to write this review because I just don’t know what to say. I guess the rambling that follows is the book reviewer’s equivalent of being speechless.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North tells the story of a Japanese POW camp during World War II. It mostly focuses on an Australian doctor, Dorrigo Evans, but occasionally shifts perspective to tell the stories of the camp guards, the prisoners, or the people they left behind when they went to war.

I love this book, and I hate this book. The whole time I was reading, I felt this weird mixture of horror, sadness, suspense, hope, awe, and boredom. Like I said, there isn’t a word for that. The writing is so strong and graphic that the scenes from the POW camp will probably stay in my brain for the rest of my life. However, I also felt like the writing was a little too flowery at times (especially during the Amy/Dorrigo affair), and I just wanted the author to get to the point and move on. I had to read more than half of the book before I became truly interested in the story, but once it hooked me, I couldn’t put it down.

Other than the writing, the best part of this novel is its multiple points-of-view. The reader gets to see the POW camp from every angle. There are no heroes or villains. The characters are all flawed and doing their best to survive. The story doesn’t stop when the war ends, so we get to see how the characters cope with their POW experiences. Some of them self-destruct while others are able to find hope and positivity in the experience.

This is a horrible, brilliant, confusing novel. Any book that can cause this many mood swings totally deserves the Booker Prize.


  1. I'm not sure I can read this. Unbroken about did me in. Maybe sometime in the future I'll be ready for another....Great review.

    1. Yeah, reading it definitely takes a lot out of you. It’s intense.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!