Our reading group attacks all sorts of different novels – as well as non-fiction work; we have no set procedure for deciding on what we should read, sometimes it’s from reviews we’ve read, or other books by an author we have enjoyed, or maybe we decide we should dip into the classics, or read something in translation, or choose something from a genre we’ve not explored before…
So I can’t quite remember how we came to decide on A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. I read this years and years and years ago; my mum was in a different sort of book club, one where a book was sent out every month to the members. I don’t know if reading clubs as we have existed then, but I don’t remember mum going out to talk about books with her friends.
I won’t outline the plot, except to say the main character is a young woman who, along with other women and children is captured by the Japanese during WW2 and marched from place to place around Malaysia as no-one wishes to take responsibility for them. This is based on an actual event – although the real story was in Indonesia not Malaya. The rest of the story takes place in Australia where Shute himself had moved to after the war. Alice of the title refers to Alice Springs, a town almost right in the middle of Australia.
I’ve read a number of Shute’s novels, but it is only recently that I found out anything about the man himself. He was born in 1899 in London, and died sixty years later in Melbourne, Australia. His full name was Nevil Shute Norway, but he used the abbreviated version as his pen name. He was an aeronautical engineer, and aircraft feature in many of his novels. However, his subject matter ranges across many different areas, including religion, romance, sheep farming, science… In some ways they may seem dated, and obviously they will be since they were written at a time when the world was very different; however, Shute is a cracking story-teller, and often very thought-provoking. Altogether he wrote twenty-four published works, many of which have been made into films or TV series.
I’ll be very interested in what my reading club think of his work!
Here is a profile of Shute from six years ago: