Final thoughts: Narrow Road to the Deep North

I’m here to tell you that the Man Booker judges got it right my friends. Not that I’ve read any of the other books on the shortlist (or on the longlist for that matter), but I can’t see how any of them could come close to The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

In November last year, Jennifer Byrne called The Narrow Road to the Deep North a ‘masterpiece’ and at the time I was sceptical – it’s a massive call for something so newly published. But the Macquarie dictionary defines ‘masterpiece’ as “a consummate example of skill or excellence of any kind”, and having just finished the book and experienced this example of excellence first hand, I realise how right she was – there’s no other word that fully captures the depth and brilliance of this book. In my own words, it’s freaking incredible.

Although the book centres on the POWs that were imprisoned/enslaved on the Thai-Burmese Railway during World War II, it is so much more than a ‘war novel’. It is, at its heart, a love story. As Flanagan said in an interview last year, “the ultimate expression of life is hope…and to the obscenity that is war, the only answer we can really make is love, and that’s our hope”.

So, I’m not going to write a proper review of the book – smarter minds than mine have already done that in spades, and I’m honestly not sure how anything I could write would do it justice. But I do need to talk about how it made me feel. Because holy shit did it make me feel.

I had no idea how prophetic the quote I posted here would be (and I wonder if Flanagan knew that what he was writing was completely true of what he was writing…meta!). At the risk of sounding a bit wanky, this book really did have me re-examining my soul. It made me think about love, forgiveness, pain and the human nature when it is pushed to the very edge of life; it caused me to question my life, it moved me to tears many times (in fact, if I’d let myself, I could have sobbed for whole chapters), it made me laugh, it surprised me, and it just generally did everything that a good book should.

The book’s genius lies in Flanagan’s ability to write about some of the most awful events in human history, some of the worst atrocities inflicted on man, by man, only to have you sympathising, and even forgiving, the perpetrators not 100 pages later. It takes a special kind of talent to pull that off.

The other thing I love, and what really sucks me in with any book, is when there is an in-text love letter to books, like this one:

“…the aura he felt around such books­ – an aura that both radiated outwards and took him inwards to another world that said to him that he was not alone…he had the sensation that there was only one book in the universe, and that all books were simply portals into this greater ongoing work – an inexhaustible, beautiful world that was not imaginary but the world as it truly was, a book without beginning or end.”

Get out of my head Richard Flanagan!

I think the most telling thing for me is that I finished reading this three days ago, and I haven’t been able to pick up a book since. Every time I start reading something else, I find my thoughts drifting back to The Narrow Road (which is killing my reading stats, just quietly #bookwormproblems).

Anyway, now that I’ve reached the point (maybe passed the point) of all-out gushing, the only thing left for me to do is to implore you to read it, if you haven’t already. And I’d love to know what you think…

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