“It’s no good going on living in the ashes of a dead happiness.”
― Nevil Shute
Why I’m Reading this Book?
This is next book from the list I’m chasing, https://www.listchallenges.com/bbcs-top-100-books-you-need-to-read-before-you-die . I grabbed it on Kindle as it’s a classic and off I go…
Novel follows the interesting life journey of Jean Paget from World war II in Malaya , to England and then finally to Australian outback. Seemingly ordinary Jean has very extraordinary tales to tell. A romantic love story that started during war and continued years afterwards.
Novel first part starts with Jean inheriting a substantial sum and her lawyer is the narrator of this story. Jean told him about her struggle as a war prisoner of Japanese during world war. How a band of British women and children were treated as prisoners and their tale of survival is the second best part of this novel. During this time, Jean meets Joe Herman, another prisoner who is from Australia. There seem to be a connection between them since the start, but horrors of war soon put an end to it.
Back to the point when she inherits a good amount of money and trying to find to put it to a good use, she has an idea of spending a small part of it. And according to me, this is the best part of the book. She decides to go back to Malaya and dig a well for the local people who helped her during war. This was altogether a noble , courageous, selfless and very pleasant act. It was because of this part of story, I was hooked to this book and ready to give it 5 stars because it was breaking the stereotype of what a women can do or not do and it was very feel good part.
But sadly, this part was quickly over, in few pages well was dug, water was in it, thanks were everywhere and I was wondering what will come next with so many chapters still pending. And then started the romantic story of Jean and Joe which was outright boring. It was like Australians were living a dark life until Ms. Jean showed up with a torch. She opened Shoe factory, ice cream corner, grocery shop, she was the force behind first public swimming pool in outback, she opened Cinema and basically everything. And mind you, all of these were firsts in the town, she singlehandedly stopped the migration of young people from the town by creating so many jobs at home. I think author went overboard trying to break the stereotype of women and created a story entirely unbelievable. Jean faced no resistance, no lack of money, all opportunities available and no competition and basically it was the happily ever after we only see in fiction.
I was wondering if Australians really sound this stupid or writer has some beef with them. Every Aussie in this book will say ‘oh my word’ at least 4 times in every 5 sentences. This phrase was so on my nerves that I was thinking I would fall out of love had I been at Jean’s place only because of this.
And while in the beginning of story, Jean was shown as a compassionate person humbled by her experience during war and I thought she has matured as a person to consider everyone equal and would be fair in her treatment, by the end of story her attitude towards black (calling them abo and placidly thinking them as per servant), her own subservient thought process (and then she sat outside the bar as was befitting for a women…) and even after establishing herself as a successful woman consistently labeling herself as an inferior to Joe was absolutely disappointing. Last part was a tedious read for me and it was the biggest part.
But all in all, I’m happy that I did give this book a chance, if not all, I liked certain part of it very much. And it was certainly new, bold and daring for its own time.
PS – Alice was the name of the town which was superior to where Joe was living (I forgot already where) and it was Jean’s dream to convert Joe’s town to a town like Alice where she can live as she was used to. (Eye-roll insert)
My Rating — 3
On the scale of: (1- Hate , 2- Neither like nor dislike, 3- Like, 4- Love, 5- Gaga)
Why anyone else should read this Book?
It’s a classic, one should always give a go to classics. And even though it fell short of my expectations, it was groundbreaking at its time. Showing a woman who is strong and self-sufficient was a big step towards gender equality.
Story before and after war was actually very good. It proved again that at time of extenuating circumstances, boundaries of race, language, color, culture diminishes and people come together to help each other. It’s a very uplifting story.
And if unlike me, you like romantic stories, you might even enjoy last part which was very boring to me.
So, go and pick up this book and tell me your tales.
“′Classic′ – a book which people praise and don’t read.”– Mark Twain