That’s it. I made it. With only a few hours until the winner is announced, I just put down Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North and with it I completed the 2014 Booker Prize Shortlist. And I may just have found a new contender. Okay, it’s not as instantly enjoyable and accessible as Karen Joy Fowler’s novel, but it does seem more likely to curry favour with the judges.
Flanagan’s novel is exactly what Mukherjee’s wanted to be. It’s a weighty work of literature that focuses on an important period of history while also trying to shed light on how historical events affect the families, friends, and lives of those involved. In The Lives of Others we had the Naxalbari uprisings. Here, we have POWs building the Burma Death Railway.
One major difference between the works is this; Flanagan manages to represent the true savagery and horror of events at the same time as giving us a tender and devastating story of one man’s life and lost loves. Mukherjee mixes his many stories awkwardly, and subsequently dilutes the meaning of all of them.
But even without a similar shortlistee with which to compare it, Flanagan’s novel would be a fantastic and worthy winner. We watch protagonist Dorrigo Evans grow up, go to war, save lives, fall in and out of love, and survive the brutalities of a POW camp. But even when writing of such horror, Flanagan’s way with words make this a beautiful and poetic novel. There’s a quote from Evie Wyld on the back of the book which sums up everything I want to say:
Not just a great novel but an important book in its ability to look at terrible things and create something beautiful. Everyone should read it.
Well said, Evie.
Can it win? You may have read my gushing reaction to Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. My view hasn’t changed. But listening to the opinions of others and the bookies, it seems Fowler is unlikely to take down the prize. Flanagan has a better chance. And there could be no doubting the quality of the winner if he were to do so.