I’ve had this book by Nevil Shute on my reading list for at least two years, and I finally was in just the right mood for it. My only previous encounter with Nevil Shute is his On the Beach, which is the story of the aftermath of a worldwide nuclear war. I read this nearly 20 years ago, although that seems impossible because I still remember vividly one particular apocalyptic dream I had after reading this book.
A Town Like Alice is much different, though just as engrossing and wonderfully written. The story centers around a young woman, Jean Paget, who learns she has inherited a good bit of money from her uncle. Jean decides to return to Malaya, where she had been a prisoner during WWII, to build a well for a village there. The middle of the book then flashes back to Jean’s experiences as a POW in Malaya, where she meets Australian Joe Harmon. Both Jean and Joe are remarkable characters. So often in books, the action is son contrived and characters are always making silly decisions that will make the book last longer but are annoying. The kind of decision that make you sigh with irritation at the author and at the character. But Jean is always making sensible decisions. Shute doesn’t have to employ any cheap literary devices to make his story good. The characters themselves: Jean, Joe, and the solicitor Noel, are fantastic.
I highly recommend this book. It’s not necessary an easy read, but it is a completely satisfying read. I will also be on the lookout for the 1981 movie.