Review 1767: Classics Club Spin! A Town Like Alice

Best of Ten!

I haven’t ever read anything by Nevil Shute, so I decided to put A Town Like Alice on my Classics Club list, and then it was chosen for the latest spin. I’m glad I chose it for my list, because it’s a really good book, hard to categorize—part war story, part love story, part adventure story, about brave and resourceful people and challenges faced. I loved it.

The novel is narrated by Noel Strachan, an elderly solicitor, who finds himself the trustee for a young woman named Jean Paget. After they befriend each other, Jean confides to him that during World War II she was in Malaya when she and a group of women and children were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Since the Japanese didn’t know what to do with them, they were marched hundreds of miles back and forth over the Malay peninsula. Half of them died until Jean made a deal with a village headman that he would allow them to stay there if they helped with the rice harvest. During the time they were wandering, an Australian POW who was driving trucks for the Japanese tried to steal food for them and was crucified by the Japanese. Jean decides to use part of her legacy to dig a well in the Malayan village to thank them for helping.

While in Malaya, Jean learns that the Australian man, Joe Harman, did not die as she thought. She decides to go to Australia to try to find him. As fate would have it, however, he comes to Strachan’s office in London looking for Jean, having learned that she was single after thinking all this time that she was married.

About half the novel is about the couple finding each other, but then Jean sees the nearby town to the remote station where Joe works. She learns that the girls won’t stay in town because there is nothing there for them, and Joe can’t keep men on the station because there are no girls. The resourceful Jean decides that if she can’t bear to live in the town, something must be done to improve it.

It’s easy to see why this novel is so beloved, although caution—there is incidental racism that reflects the times. That being said, I found this novel deeply satisfying—engrossing, touching, full of life and spirit.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

My Brilliant Career

Salt Creek

16 thoughts on “Review 1767: Classics Club Spin! A Town Like Alice

  1. Elaine Schroller December 10, 2021 / 1:11 pm

    A Town Like Alice became one of my all-time favorite books from the moment I found a copy at our local library’s used books sale 30 years ago! I’ve read it at least 10 times since then. Shute’s writing style may seem a little stilted for modern times, but for an aeronautical engineer writing what is basically a love story, I think he did a fabulous job. Writing style aside (as well as the incidental racism inherent in so many novels written decades ago), Jean Paget is a heroine for all times – strong, practical, goal-oriented, and in possession of a huge heart and conscience. The “local” clothes, the well, the alligator shoes, the ice cream shop! Working within the circumstances and mores of whatever situation she’s in.

    Then there’s Joe Harmon. Be still my heart! This man’s genuine desire to help the women because it’s the right thing to do. The soaps, ointments, fruit, the pig, and finally the chickens that caused so much pain. Lily, the dog who soothes him. Feeling ridiculously unworthy of the love of his life.

    I could go on for hours, but I’ll end with this: suffice it to say these characters Shute created, his efforts to dig deep into their psyches, plus the structure of this novel, had a tremendous influence on my own novel.

    • whatmeread December 10, 2021 / 1:30 pm

      You practically have it memorized! It is really good. I can’t believe I never read it before.

  2. Helen December 10, 2021 / 3:34 pm

    I haven’t read anything by Nevil Shute either, but I have one of his other books, Pied Piper, on my Classics Club list. If I enjoy that one I’ll probably read this one too. I’m glad you liked it.

  3. FictionFan December 11, 2021 / 6:13 am

    I loved this one too when I read it just a year or so ago, especially the first half of the women’s experiences in Malaya. I’ve only read one other book of his – On the Beach – which I also thought was excellent. He’s such a great storyteller – keeps you absorbed all the way through. Glad you had a successful spin!

    • whatmeread December 11, 2021 / 11:52 am

      I guess I’ll have to look for more of his books.

  4. Liz Dexter December 12, 2021 / 12:49 pm

    I’ve read this a couple of times and found it a great read, if difficult in parts. I haven’t read any of his other books, though, weirdly!

    • whatmeread December 12, 2021 / 1:00 pm

      Yeah, me too. I’m going to have to correct that.

  5. Robin December 12, 2021 / 5:45 pm

    I loved this book and am slowly reading through all of Nevil Shute’s books. This is my favorite of his, thus far.

  6. Anne Bennett December 13, 2021 / 4:32 pm

    I am a huge fan of this book and the miniseries made from it. I think I’ve read it five times. Last time through it I touched the book and said goodbye, thinking I didn’t need to read it any longer… or maybe the problems like the racism/sexism finally just got to me.

    I read Treasure Island. Somehow I missed it as a child but loved it as an adult. Treasure Island

  7. Jane December 14, 2021 / 10:08 am

    It’s going on my next list, an author I really need to get to know!

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