Book Review: A Town Like Alice

Nevil Shute (Norway) was an English novelist and aeronautical engineer. A Town Like Alice is a story about working for what you want.  It is also a love story.

Englishwoman Jean Paget survives a Japanese death walk during World War II only to find that she cannot return to the youthful interests of the pre-war girl.  Coming into an inheritance, she returns to Malaysia to repay kindness received from the natives during her ordeal.  While there, she discovers that Joe, the young Australian man who helped her during the war, has also survived.  Jean decides to go to Australia to find Joe, stopping briefly in Alice Springs, a lovely town in the Australian outback. Continuing her search, Jean arrives in Willstown, a scattering of buildings near the station where Joe is employed.  Willstown residents have outbackitis, the firm belief that because it is located in the outback of Australia that it will never be anything. And, indeed, there are few women and no reason for women to stay  there. And no Joe because he has gone to England to search for her.  While Jean waits for Joe’s return, she turns her mind to ways to improve Willstown.  Since Alice Springs is a lovely town, it must be possible.  And you will have to read the book for the rest of the story!

Shute’s writing style is brisk and spare; his story lines are clean with well rounded characters and clean endings.  I think “A Town Like Alice” should be required senior year reading.


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