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A Town Like Alice

by Nevil Shute

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Some books I feel I have to give 5★, even if the book has some considerable flaws. For me, Auē was one such book.

A Town Like Alice is another

The story begins gently with an aging London solicitor, Noel Strachan, recounting how he came to meet elderly and wealthy Scotsman, James McFadden, and helped him draw up his will. When McFadden dies, Strachan tracks down his sole surviving relative, Jean Paget. It is fair to say the Noel is charmed by this young lady who says she feels about seventy and will never marry.

So how does this story end up in Northern Australia? I can’t really tell any more without giving away too much of the plot. I can tell you that the middle part of this novel does have considerable impact (in fact some pages were the most powerful I have ever read) & was nearly impossible to put down. I found parts of it very romantic, parts of Jean’s experiences are very distressing. And you have to grit your teeth and swallow a lot when reading about the attitudes of the time, both to women and to anyone who wasn’t white. The use of what would now (if it wasn’t then) be considered racial slurs is very hard to read – I don’t think I have ever seen so many in one book. By the end end it was detracting from my enjoyment of the book, but whether or not Shute shared these attitudes they were authentic for the time and I still admired the hero and heroine of this book very much.

I managed easily to acquire most of Shute’s titles over the years. This one took me longer. I have a feeling this book is a keeper for most people and that is why it rarely turns up in secondhand bookshops.

Further reading; Nevil Shute met Carry Geysel after the war. Due to a misunderstanding he thought her life during WW2 had been even harder than it was.

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