Book Review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
World War II may just be the most unsightly stain on the dark and messy tapestry that is the history of this world, but it has since then sought to redeem itself by serving as a redoubtable muse and consistently yielding works of art that vary in quality, ranging from literature and movies of the highest grade to the occasional dud which can only be described as torture porn.
Given the voluminous tomes and the many films that most have already waded through, horrified and shocked senseless by the atrocities documented of a time when mankind seemed hell bent on plumbing the furthest depths of evil, it is safe to say that the majority have grown benumbed to the terrible tragedy of that awful war. Richard Flanagan comes along with his sixth novel and suddenly the horror is real all over again. The bone-jarring visceral imagery he conjures up of the immense suffering endured by too-many-to-count will be burnt into the brain forevermore where the memory of lost souls who died senselessly for no discernible cause will haunt the living in the futile hope that all will learn the lessons offered by a tragic and too easily forgotten past.
Flanagan’s epic is about Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor, who is not only doomed to suffer an unlucky romance but also finds himself in charge of a group of POWs who have been condemned to serve on the ‘Line’—the construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway dreamed up by a desperate Japanese Empire and given its impetus by the infallible logic of war. The 77-year-old Dr Evans is haunted in equal measure by his ‘cobbers’ who he “held, nursed, cajoled, begged, hoodwinked and organised into surviving” but who insisted on dying anyway and the memory of his overwrought love affair with his uncle’s young wife which nudges him along a tortuous path of private emptiness which he seeks to plug with a string of meaningless affairs and public honours that he grows to loathe.