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A Town Like Alice (1950)

by Nevil Shute

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,3951323,112 (4.04)436
"A tale of love and war, follows its enterprising heroine from Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback." -- Cover, p.4.
  1. 00
    Evidence Not Seen: A Woman's Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II by Darlene Deibler Rose (CherylLonski)
    CherylLonski: One is a work of fiction, the other is a biographical account. One author is male, the other female. One British, one American. Yet the stories intersect in interesting ways in their telling of a painful time in world history.
  2. 00
    The Promise of Rain by Donna Milner (jayne_charles)
    jayne_charles: More POW hell
  3. 00
    In the Wet by Nevil Shute (Booksloth)
  4. 00
    The Flamboya Tree: Memories of a Mother's Wartime Courage by Clara Kelly (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Though fiction, the war experiences of Jean Padgett are based in fact from the Island of Sumatra, and gives a good view of what was going on on other islands in the Pacific.
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» See also 436 mentions

English (127)  Danish (4)  German (1)  All languages (132)
Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)
great story about survival, love, and giving back; with a bit of racism that's hard to ignore. ( )
  rosies | May 8, 2022 |
I find myself a bit torn with this. Its treatment of race is very much of its time (to put it kindly), but despite my misgivings about that, this is a wonderful book. Moving, funny and memorable. It's certainly deserving of its longevity. ( )
  whatmeworry | Apr 9, 2022 |
This is the second book by Nevil Shute I’ve read. (The first was Round the Bend.) This was an enjoyable story, and Shute writes with a clear style. The book follows the life of an English woman in Malaya during WWII, who is captured along with a group of women. They are forced to walk from town to town for several years in very difficult circumstances. She eventually falls in love with a man who was literally crucified (but survived) for stealing food (from their captors) for her and the women she was with. He is Australian, and the second part of the book details her search for him and her life living in difficult country in Austrailia. ( )
  Joe24 | Feb 20, 2022 |
One day Jean Paget gets a phone call - she is the sole beneficiary of her uncle's will. However - there is a catch - he did not trust women so the money will be in a trust for a very long time. From that point the story moves in two directions - back to the war in Malaya via the memories of the young woman and forward to a future which noone expects. The story of the will form the backbone of the story weaved by Shute but it is the other 2 parts of it which make this novel memorable.

We get to hear the story second-hand - the lawyer, Noel Strachan, who is the executor of the will and in charge of releasing funds when requested, is our narrator. But he does not see most of the story - Jean tells him the part in Malaya and she sends letters about the story ones she leaves England. Add to this that Noel is at least half in love with his young charge and objectivity is the last thing you can get from the old man writing a story, long after he had initially heard some parts of it and knowing that she will never see Jean again.

And the story is fascinating (and horrifying) - Jean almost died in Malaya when the Japanese forced her and the rest of the women and children they found in one of the towns to march across the country for months. Except that she was too stubborn to die - so instead she became the leader of the small party and managed to find a way to survive - with the help of some local people. And now, having enough money, she wants to go back and help the same people who saved her from starvation. It is like a chain of good will - they helped her, she helps them when she was able to and that leads to her learning that a man she had given up on as dead is actually very much alive. And off she is to Australia to find him - without any plans on what she would do when she does find him (or so Noel tells us anyway). In the meantime, Noel gets a surprising visitor and decides to meddle.

The third part of the novel, the one set in Australia moves a lot slower than either the Malaya or the London/around the world one. Jean finally finds where Joe, the man she believed dead, lives and ends up in the middle of nowhere in the Australian Outback. So what do you get from a woman who have access to money and is used to making her own way through the world? A change of course - it may be a backwater but it is her backwater (as she sees it) so it is time for it to change. The novel turns into a story of Outback development where Jean just cannot set a foot wrong (but don't forget who the narrator is). There is enough action - from calves being stolen to a broken leg and a man almost dying, from flooding to finding a way to be accepted in the community. She wants only one thing: "a town like Alice" (aka Alice Springs - the jewel of the Outback). And somewhere in there there is also the big love story - too perfect, too proper, almost too big for the pages.

This is the first novel by Shute I had read and I loved his style. Even if some parts were less captivating than others (the "how to develop the Outback manual" aka the third part of the novel can be a long-winded in places but even that somehow worked).

PS: At the end of the novel, the author adds an author note explaining that the Malaya story did not happen - not in Malaya anyway. But a version of it happened elsewhere. ( )
  AnnieMod | Jan 31, 2022 |
This is the most famous novel by British author and engineer Nevil Shute. It is a novel of three parts: in the first and by far the most dramatic part, a young lady Jean Paget recounts to her lawyer Noel Strachan (who is the overall narrator of the novel) her experiences during the war in Malaya after the Japanese invaded, as part of a party of British women and children being marched around the country with no one wanting to take responsibility for their fate. Due to the privations of the forced march, poor food and disease, half of the party die en route. Jean assumes responsibility for the group's welfare. She meets an Australian prisoner of war Joe Harman who helps the party by stealing chickens for them; however, he is caught by the Japanese, horribly beaten and crucified and left for dead. Sometime after this, Jean and her party are able to establish themselves relatively securely in a Malay village working in the paddy fields for the remaining three years of the war.

In the second part, having discovered a few years later that Joe survived his torture, Jean visits Australia to try to track him down across the outback; at the same time, unbeknownst to her, Joe is visiting England to look for her. They finally meet and, in the third and least dramatic part, they get together romantically and build a life in the Queensland outback, Jean using her entrepreneurial skills to start a string of business and build up the (fictional) township of Willstown so that it can become "a town like Alice (Springs)". There was perhaps rather too much detail in this section than most most British readers are likely to want to know about breeding of cattle and how to start up a business in the outback. That said, it is an uplifting story of how Jean and Joe are able to overcome adversity to build a life together.

This edition contains an introduction by Eric Lomax, a prisoner of war on the notorious Burma-Siam railway, whose experiences were described in The Railway Man, made into a film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. The introduction helpfully warns the reader at the outset in bold letters that it gives away details of the plot, so I read it only after finishing the book ( )
  john257hopper | Jan 10, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 127 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nevil Shuteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bailey, RobinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hunt, NeilNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
— W. B. Yeats
Dedication
First words
James MacFadden died in March 1905 when he was forty-seven years old; he was riding in the Driffield Point-to-Point.
On the publication of this book I expect to be accused of falsifying history, especially in regard to the march and death of the homeless women prisoners. (Author's Note)
[Introduction] I was born in 1919.
Quotations
The soldiers ... came to the evacuees sitting numbly in the veranda of the accounts office.... they were ordered to give up all fountain-pens and wrist-watches and rings.... Jean lost her watch and had her bag searched for a fountain-pen, but she had packed it in her luggage.
Ayer Penchis ... was a Malay village which housed the labour for a number of rubber plantations in the vicinity. The latex-processing plant of one stood near at hand and by it was a sort of palm thatch barn, used normally for smoking sheets of the raw rubber hung on horizontal laths.
"People who spent the war in prison camps have written a lot of books about what a bad time they had.... They don't know what it was like, not being in a camp."
Last words
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Disambiguation notice
"A Town Like Alice" was originally published as "The Legacy".
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"A tale of love and war, follows its enterprising heroine from Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback." -- Cover, p.4.

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