CHARACTERS A Town Like Alice 107

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Who offered to help her even at the cost of his life From the Paperback edition. Nevil Shute's sweeping novel sees privileged Englishwoman Jean Paget upended from her expat life in colonial Malaya by the invading Japanese in WWIIPaget somehow survives the brutality of an enforced death march through a jungle peninsula and eschews the home comforts of post war England for altruistic work in far flung climes Malaya and the Australian outbackThis is a compelling read despite it seeming a bit dated now and Shute can be commended for creating a modern ballsy female character in a time of authorial chauvinism

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A Town Like AliceA TOWN LIKE ALICE tells of a young woman who miraculously survived a Japanese d. ”I suppose it is because I have lived rather a restricted life myself that I have found so much enjoyment in remembering what I have learned in these last years about brave people and strange scenes I have sat here day after day this winter sleeping a good deal in my chair hardly knowing if I was in London or the Gulf country dreaming of the blazing sunshine of poddy dodging and black stockmen of Cairns and of Green Island Of a girl that I met forty years too late and of her life in that small town that I shall never see again that holds so much of my affection” There was a 1981 mini series starring Bryan Brown and Helen MorseOur narrator is a solicitor by the name of Noel Strachan who is ”as solid as the Bank of England and as sticky as treacle” He becomes involved with an estate that seems to be a straightforward affair but soon it evolves into his most all consuming case It involves a woman named Jean Paget to him of a girl but as we learn her story we find out just how much of a woman she really is Paget’s story is based on true events This story is set in Malaya but the real story is set in Sumatra The women and children taken by the Japanese during the war are Dutch not British and Nevil Shute gets many things wrong Some of that is translation problems and some of those are changes necessary to tell the story he wants to tell The Japanese take all foreign nationals in Malaya prisoner They separate the men from the women haul the men off to camps and don’t have a clue what to with the women and childrenSo they march them in what turns out to be random directions towards mythical camps for women and children that never materialize With every brutal mile their ranks are thinned and the youngest woman among them becomes their de facto leader Jean Paget She befriends a truck driver from the Australian outback Jim Harman who steals much needed supplies at great risk Eventually he is caught ”’I stole those mucking chickens and I gave them to her So what’ said JoeThe ’So what’ turns out to be a very big deal indeed ”’They crucified him’ she said uietly ‘They took us down to Kuantan and they nailed his hands to a tree and beat him to death They kept us there and made us look on while they did it’”This is a story that Paget tells to Noel Strachan and he shares the story with us Over the course of the novel she continues to write to him about her life Despite the age difference and the impracticality of a relationship it is easy to see that Strachan has fallen in love with Jean Paget and as it turned out so did Joe Harman Joe Harman is based on a real man by the name of Herbert James ‘Ringer’ Edwards He was every inch the man that Shute describes in his novel Look at that jaunty angle to his hatIn this edition there is a wonderful afterword by Jenny Colgan She makes the case that writers craftsmen and craftswomen like Nevil Shute Bernard Malamud Elizabeth Taylor Robertson Davies are largely forgotten by the reading community today Interestingly enough I have several books by all these writers in my personal library I am the consummate pursuer of writers exactly like Shute who have been relegated to the past left for dead but who are in need of a resurrection with a new generation of readers He has certainly left his mark on me I think about Shute’s book On the Beach at least once a week It is one of my favorite post apocalyptic books I have a feeling I will be similarly haunted by A Town Like Alice Nevil Shute Norway is his full name To keep his engineering life and his writing life separated he existed under Norway in one and Shute in the other He became caught up in the disastrous airship craze between the world wars and he is brought to life so vividly by David Dennington in his historical novel The Airshipmen Shute’s writing style is crisp concise and straightforward There is romance but he presents it in such a practical fashion that the plot never bogs down in the melodrama of star crossed lovers ”But Shute was a storytelling craftsman to his bones; an aeronautics obsessive there are very few authors who are also excellent engineers He never constructs a lazy or shoddy sentence any than he’d have let the wings fall off one of his aeroplanes”After receiving her legacy Jean ends up in the outback of Australia being exactly the can do woman she was in Malaya She wants to build the sparse few buildings of Willstown into the next Alice Springs I find this part of the story so inspiring She is such an natural entrepreneur She asks the right uestions What do people need What do people want that they don’t even know they want it yet What must we do to make each venture profitable How does she keep the young women from running off to the big cities No young women means there are no young men In many ways she is like Bugsy Siegel who envisioned casinos in the desert She wants to build A Town Like Alice She uses her legacy to build something There is one major plot twist which is dangled so masterfully by Shute but the reveal is not a grand fireworks affair That just isn’t Shute’s style He brings it in subtly as if to sayof course this is what really happened Poor Noel Strachan meets the girl of his dreams forty years too late but fate does at least let him meet her You too can meet Jean Paget and Joe Harman and get to know what poddy dodging means and ringers but importantly if you love a good story as well crafted as the airplanes you trust your life to then you should be reading Nevil Shute His books should not be forgotten Blow the dust off them in your local library and paperback exchanges and let his stories live in your mind as they do in mine If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews visithttpwwwjeffreykeetencomI also have a Facebook blogger page at

Nevil Shute ¶ 7 CHARACTERS

CHARACTERS A Town Like Alice 107 ß ➵ A Town Like Alice Read ➼ Author Nevil Shute – A TOWN LIKE ALICE tells of a young woman who miraculously survived a Japanese death march in World War II and of an Australian soldier also a prisoner of war who offered to help her even at the cost o A TOWN LIKE ALICE tells of a young wEath march in World War II and of an Australian soldier also a prisoner of war. Jean Paget was part of a group of women and children captured by the Japanese at the beginning of the invasion of Malaya The men were sent to camps while their captors didn’t know what to do with the women and children And so began the horrific march across Malaya from one place to the next over miles and miles of dense jungle During the walk several of their party died but Jean’s role as leader went well as she was the only person able to speak the local language When the diminished group came across Australian prisoners of war Joe Harman from northern Australia did his best to help the group He was caught and brutally punishedAfter the war and repatriated to England Jean’s lifestyle was a sedentary one But after considerable time she learned something contrary to her beliefs and so headed for Australia in search of Joe; she needed to know if he was alright Would she find him Joe had spoken fondly of Alice Springs – could she find him in a town like Alice A Town Like Alice by Aussie author Nevil Shute is an exceptional tale Based on the true story of Dutch women and children captured by the Japanese in Sumatra Shute met the strong courageous woman who led the group through the jungle and wanted to honour her with this story Hence Jean Paget was born Originally published in 1950 A Town Like Alice is a classic I highly recommend