A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
Interesting social document – this was published the year my Mum was born, so it’s pretty recent, but it describes attitudes that you would have imagined died out long ago.
The heroine is tough and resourceful and spends the first half of the book surviving tough physical labour and watching her friends die and be tortured, with a remarkably stiff upper lip. But then she describes sex before marriage with a man she loves as “a fate worse than death”, but that if he must succomb to his urges, then she will bear it.
The second half is set in the Australian Outback, and the aborigines are simple, unreliable and referred to throughout as “Abos”, “Boongs” and “Gollywogs”.
I wouldn’t write off literature because it displays attitudes that are unacceptable to me but were common at the time of writing, otherwise I’d miss out on a lot. But I genuinely found it surprising that a book written so recently seemed so dated.
The story is meant to be narrated by an elderly lawyer based on letters received from the protagonist, but includes information that he could not have known (I don’t imagine that she would have written to her lawyer about her sex life), which grates on me. Also, the structure seems unbalanced; the first act describes a terrible ordeal that just seems to peter out, then the second act is one long happy ending.
Also, I am usually a complete wuss for anything emotive. However cheesy or badly written, I’m usually crying my eyes out at the end of “heartstring-tugging” film or book, but I remained dry-eyed throughout this one.