Sunday 19 June 2016

day 65: a town like Alice

I don't read anywhere near as much as I used to, but a few weeks ago I was running a bit early to meet someone so I popped into the library to see what they had to offer. I spent ages trying to decide; how are you supposed to know what to choose when there is so much to choose from?! Plus a book is a big time investment, after many years of forcing myself through books I didn't really enjoy I am very cautious about what I give my time to. I ended up consulting The List, that is the BBC's top 200 books. I was working through these a few years ago, but since got lazy with it. I think I've managed about half of the first 100, not sure about the full 200. Anyway, I went back to this for some inspiration.

I ended up settling for A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute. I think the fact that it's got a strong female protagonist really appealed to me, as an adult female myself. The story is told by a Mr Noel Strachan, but is about the extraordinary life of Jean Paget; her experiences as a prisoner of war in Malaya, her incredible strong will to make lives better, and her plight to find her love.

I found the writing very easy to read. I might sound like a bit of an imbecile (I'm actually quite good at English as a subject) but I like books that have a quite straightforward writing style. I prefer to concentrate on the plot rather than having to make a conscious effort to understand the language. There was no over description, no long passages of irrelevant information (or whole chapters about the history of the sewers like I found in Les Miserables), and the pace was just right. From the start I found this book difficult to put down once I started reading it.

It was also a bit of a treat that my hometown of Southampton was mentioned so much. Jean Paget had lived in Bassett, a suburb of the city and an area that I am quite familiar with having lived in the city my whole life. The actual address, No 17 St Ronans Road, doesn't exist. I don't know if it never existed or if it was blitzed in the war (would Shute have used a real address?), but the detail about the city is still interesting.

Honestly, this book made me want to be a better person. It made me wish I were more like Jean Paget. She is not an unrealistic character, just an extraordinary one, and I believe that we could all learn something from her character and her plight to build a town like Alice.