Sewn around the life of Dorrigo Evans, a Tasmanian Corporeal and Doctor who led his men through the life of prisoners of war in service of the Japanese in Thailand, building a railway line for the Emperor with little more than a handful of rice as daily rations and rope and hammers to build with, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a novel that weaves through time and characters all searching for what it means to be alive. The rhythm, beauty and coherent promise of poetry interlace the different sections that take different lives into the hell of war and the battlefield of marriage. The Haiku, death poems, beluga calls and Tennyson round out these lives in an illusive and circuitous search for meaning.
Profoundly moving and, like of the other novels on Man Booker shortlist, deeply concerned with what it means to be human and how life matters at all, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a delicately constructed work of beauty that I wish I had read more slowly.
Now I have read all the 2014 Man Booker short list, I feel several things: inspired, humbled and less irritated than I often am when contemplating short lists of this kind. There are novels I wish were in the short list – such as The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth – and there are novels that I feel aren’t worthy of this year’s short list despite being good books in their own right – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I think the other four novels – how to be both, J, The Lives of Others and The Narrow Road to the Deep North – are all books that deserve to be read by many and read again and I would be saddened if they didn’t become classics of their kind. I suppose my favourites are how to be both and The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Which should win? I’m not sure. As Dorrigo Evans himself muses, ‘A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul.’ Though how to be both is moving and provoking, my soul is perhaps more challenged by The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I’m not sure. I may change my mind when the haste of reading in a flurry passes and I’m left with those aftertastes that linger in the mind and form tiny fissures of thought that crack through the every day.
Next week I’m reading Declares Pereira by Antonion Tabucchi and pondering whether I should continue the blog. Let me know what you think.