One of my Australian readers commented extensively about A Town Like Alice after my review of Trustee from the Toolroom. So I picked up my second Nevil Shute book and I loved it.
The story in Toolroom revolves around the responsibilities of a trustee named in a will. Situations like that seemed to interest Shute, since A Town Like Alice is framed by a trustee telling us the story of a life.
The narrator is a solicitor (English for lawyer) who is the trustee of a will. The beneficiary is the heroine of the story, Jean Paget, a 23-year-old woman who becomes a prisoner of war by the Japanese during WW II in Malaya. During her terrible ordeal she briefly meets Joe Harman, an Australian cowboy, who takes enormous risks to help her and her group of fellow prisoners. Eventually Joe gets killed by the Japanese, or so Jean thinks.
After the war, the two meet up against all odds and end up building a life in the Australian outback, where Joe comes from.
“Alice” stands for Alice Springs, a city in the very center of the vast Australian continent. Alice, or even “the Alice,” as it is called by the Australians, was a comfortable place to live in the middle of the 20th century (1950). Shute published Alice in 1950, ten years before Toolroom in 1960, just before he died at the age of 60 in Melbourne, Australia.
A Town Like Alice is a finely crafted novel that really just tells a story. Other than the evils of war, there are no villains in this story. It just tells about life, during the war, and how it affected innocent women and children. Then it illustrates life in the Australian outback in vivid detail. I leaned much about Australia reading this book. Now I want to go and check out the places where no tourists go.
I want to see Alice Springs.
Rating: *** (out of 4)