A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.
August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier.
Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever. This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.
©2013 Copyright © Richard Flanagan 2013. The moral right of the author has been asserted. (P)2013 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd
"Richard Flanagan is one of the most exciting novelists working anywhere, full stop." (The Age)
"Flanagan can stop a reader's breath." (Los Angeles Times)
"Mr Flanagan is a master of sleight of hand, adept at using words to conjure worlds, an indefatigable artist." (The New York Times)
Yes. I was obsessed by this book, and counted the minutes until I could resume listening.
So many, so few. Any book that makes you think. Anything that makes you consider shadows and blurred lines is worthy.
If it wasn't the author, I would have been less generous with my rating here. Flanagan will never win the prize for narration, however, hearing a remarkable book read to you by its author adds an extra layer to the experience.
I wouldn't presume to rename it.
This is one of those once in a lifetime reads. Beautiful and lyrical, and prosaic and horrific by turn, it will stay with you for a very long time.
Dorrigo Evans is an Australian doctor - a surgeon - who finds himself leading a group of 700 prisoners of war working on the Burma Thai Railway during World War Two. Before he goes to war he is involved in a love affair of life changing proportions. But, amazingly, life goes on after the affair and the war, and Dorrigo is for the rest of his life considered a hero by the nation, although he never understands why as he knows himself to be a very flawed character. Indeed, Flanagan shows us this character in full flight, a man of both high restraint and strong passion. This is a book of enormous scope and yet highly focused, with personal stories entwined with historical events, and universal human values muddied by culture and human frailty. Although there are many characters and a number of points of view, Flanagan succeeds in developing a structure which rewards the reader more as the book proceeds. Changes of time, place and character form a complex pattern, but one that makes sense. We are left with questions about the nature of love and just what makes people good or bad, both in the most personal of senses and as a group.
I like words - even the ones I don't know yet
Stirring, enlightening, tender
There is a moment when the reader learns something the protagonist isn't aware of and it changes the complexion of the whole book.
Anyone else. Sam Neil (kiwi I know) or and australian with natural gravitas. Flanagan wrote the book but I didn't like his narration. The start of the book is read especially slow, I assume to add and artistic solemnity but it annoyed me.
A boring man's journey through the bitter trials of love and war.
Seriously, i enjoyed this book but (SPOILERS) the protagonist is a serial adulterer, a rock-star surgeon and a leader of men though horrific conditions BUT he is so dull!
No, not better. Each one has so much to offer the person reading or listening. Both are intimately connected to Richard Flanagan in a remarkable way.
I have not read a book quite like this one. Richard Flanagan has written so sensitively about human relationships - between people - and within oneself. The way he writes challenges the reader/listener to reflect on their own experiences, even if that person does not recognise what is happening to them as they work through the book.
For a lot of the book I was drawn to Darky Gardiner; and I was shocked to discover his origins. The revealing of his story, was as ironic as it was loving.
In the end, I had the greatest warmth for Amy. Her bewilderment, her illness, her life, mostly unexpressed after the early part of the book, brought out the caring, nurturing part of my soul. I felt good thinking about her.
I was so very impressed with the way Dorrigo Evans' story is brought around at the end of the book. Such sensitive and insightful writing.
I was deeply moved to hear Richard Flanagan reading his book. Many authors are far from being adequate narrators. RF, using a flat voice, with very little intonation, allowed the characters to reveal themselves without any veiling.
Avid listener - when I drive, do home chores, lie in the hammock under the tree...
Australian accent, no talent for reading... It's a pity this excellent book was not read by an accomplished narrator.
A well crafted story about the infamous building of the Death Railway. Seen from different perspectives. It explains many things but excuses none. Don't read it if you cannot cope with graphic descriptions of that living hell.
What drives us to remember, to forget? What will we think of our lives, what we witnessed, our actions, motives, when our own end comes?
These are the questions I ask having just finished this moving portrait of one man and his path through war and its aftermath .
Richard Flanagan may be difficult to listen to for non Australians, but , as an Australian, I found his narration truly authentic. The slow, thoughtful drawl, colouring in the picture of Dr Evans, pacing his experiences and allowing each thought to sink in deeply, to stir the listener , to make us think.
I read and wept, read and wept.
Lest We Forget.
I usually choose less cerebral novels as audiobooks, so this would be my most literary choice so far.
It's just an extraordinary journey. Immensely moving and beautifully written.
I found his reading a bit "flat". I think actors are a better choice.
How could you not fall in love with Dorrigo - a truly honourable man. I kept thinking of Atticus Finch.
This is not a book for the faint hearted. I don't think I could ever watch a film version. It is beautiful and terrible. Highly recommended.
Professional narration, this book is not narrated it is read and done so in a way that destroys the reputation of audiobooks.
I will let you know when I have read the book, the narration is so bad I couldn't listen to more than an hour of the book.
Humphery Bower is a surpurb Australian narrator.
Narrated with a monotone voice that had the flow and excitement of wading waist deep through mud. Richard sounds bored reading the book. I buy audiobooks for long drives and found it was putting me to sleep. I was so excited when I purchased the book and despite temptation kept it for my Christmas 16 hour drive. I was so increadibly disappointed by the performance that I couldn't listen to it. I now have to go and buy the book. I love my audiobooks but this has been a very disappointing experience.
I can not recommend this book highly enough. Ostensibly, it is about the experience of Australian prisoners of war in Japanese camps during World War Two, but it is also about so much more than that. Somehow it manages to describe the entire lives and loves of both Japanese and Australian civilians and soldiers with humanity and compassion, even when describing the most unimaginably horrific events.
A beautiful story, both horiffic and compassionate. Strongly recommended.
"Listen to a sample of the audio before you buy it"
As far as I could tell there was some nice clean prose and a good story struggling to get out, but some one should have explained to Richard Flanagan that it was time to hand over his baby to an actor capable of infusing some life into the narrative. I gave up after the opening and, on the basis that I do think there may be a good book there, have ordered the kindle version instead.
Thought I would identify with the subject matter because my father served in Burma in WW2, but really couldn't engage with this at all. Persevered for 20 chapters and I am rarely beaten by a book, felt like I was stuck in an endless traffic jam, relief to admit I want to return this one!
A professional voice.
it seems to be really well written and about a subject matter I find fascinating. it's just the read that lets it down
Unbelievably slow and laborious. Almost without emotion.
I will read this book instead of listening to it.
"Poor narration of a good book"
This is likely to have been a good book. However, the narrator was monotone and and draggingly slow in his reading. I even tried to speed up the reading on my iPod to x1.25 in the hope of a more enjoyable listen but this also turned out to be tedious. Such a pity. For the record this would have been my 32 audiobook so I am not a novice.
If it is released with a different narrator I would try again.
"Weary narration overcomes incident"
Sharper editing and a professional narrator. This is an example of how the writer is sometimes not the best reader of his work. Flanagan narrates in a dull weary monotone which is only sometimes appropriate for the character of Dorrigo. It put me to sleep, lost my interest when driving no matter how dramatic the subject matter. Mispronounciations annoyed me: maybe an Australian 'antimacassar' is said with the stress on the third syllable but I don't ' think a hat is worn 'rakkishly' even Down Under. The writing is very uneven, especially in the Australian sections: longwinded expositions of unconvincing emotions, wince-making descriptions surely qualifying for entry in The Bad Sex Award ( lots of 'short pants'). The Burma railway chapters are vividly imagined and I was especially moved by the exploration of the Japanese officers' situation, more chilling and intense than the catalogue of the POWs' horrors. I look forward to reading the novel to judge for myself why it was selected for the ManBooker list to as I felt unable to stuck with the audio version beyond the arrival of the much-vaunted letter in Part 3, and while mildly curious to know the outcome, valued my will to live too much to carry on listening.
Not in this version.
Really thorough research and convincing exploration of the Japanese viewpoint.
Only the second audio novel I have given up on in eight years.
"A good story but not a good listen"
I might be tempted to try another book by this author so long as the author is not the narrator.
I found the experiences of the PoW inmates and that of their Japanese captures interesting, inspiring and heartbreaking.
This really did need a professional actor who could separate and bring to life each character. Richard Flanagan's narration was monotonous and lacked passion.
This book is a lesson for the the whole of mankind on the evil of war and the depts of cruelty and evil that one group of people is capable of inflicting on another.
This is a good book that has sadly been very let down by the narrator.
"The Narrow Road to the Deep North: a Life"
This is not an easy story, but it is very absorbing and moving. The listener experiences a life's journey through the sufferings of WWII as a Japanese POW and the dissatisfactions of the return to 'normal life.'
The emotional involvement and the engaging story was the best part of the story.
Some effort needs to be given to differentiate between each of the characters, particularly at the beginning. One criticism I have is that the names of the characters are rather unrealistic and become a little annoying.
I did listen to this all in one sitting and this was how I would advise you to listen to it.
The author is an excellent writer, but a poor narrator. The monotone of the reading, in a thick Tasmanian accent, is soporific and does not help the listener. For such a, now, prize-winning novel, I would advise Audible to re-record this with a more engaging narrator.
"Had to quit. Awful narration."
Despite the previous negative review I read, I thought I'd give this book a go all the same, I took a risk with it. Besides, any booker good enough to win the man booker award surely can't bas a narrated as poorly as it had been reviewed.. could it?
Well you know the answer. A real shame, I gave up after two hours. I could't stand the monotonous drivel that I was listening to, I could barely hear what he was saying as it was all mumbled. He sounded like a guy you would see hunched over a beer glass in a bar mumbling to anyone that will listen.
So disappointed as I wanted to give this a go. I couldn't bear to give the story rating any less than what It would have probably been with a decent narrator. Robert Glenister would be perfect!
"Its brilliance stands out!"
This is a beautifully written book. The mellifluous flow of the language counterpoints the horror of the content. The author reads the book in a virtual monotone which entirely suits the subject matter. The words speak for themselves. It was heart rending, poignant and moving. My only gripe was the swipe made at British officers but I wasn't there so cannot really say if they behaved as badly as depicted or not. Certainly the later chapters dealing with the aftermath from the Japanese point of view showed that the author is even handed and fair so maybe we do need to revisit the British part played in this terrible theatre of war.
I had not heard of the author before but will be searching out his other works; along with many others I suspect as he recently deservedly won the Booker!
"Not for everybody perhaps"
There are certain people who should probably avoid this audio book:
1. Those who seek a straightforward account of the construction of the Burma Railway during WW2. (Flanagan's prose is often poetic and his use of modernist time-shift technique will probably annoy you).
2. Those for whom audiobooks are a form of escape and who prefer to avoid descriptions of cruelty and suffering. Richard Flanagan confronts the brutality with which POW's working on the railway (including his own father) were treated in all its horrifying detail.
For others, as for me, Flanagan's lyrical interweaving of several intricate themes will be a joy and will have a potency that fully justifies his selection as winner of the Booker Prize. An extra layer is added to the novel by his exploration of the ethos that led the Japanese to behave in the way they did.
With few exceptions - John le Carré for example - authors are not the best narrators of their own work. Several great poets have managed to reduce their poetry to banality when recording it themselves. Although I did come to wonder whether Flanagan's flat, impersonal delivery didn't in fact underline the horror of the events he was describing - and of course his Tasmanian accent is entirely authentic - nevertheless I longed for the phrasing and intonation of Glenister, Vance, Jayston or Jarvis.
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