My Review (5 stars out of 5)
Twenty-year-old Jean Paget is captured by the Japanese while working in Malaya during World War Two. Along with a group of women and children she is forced to march through the jungle while the enemy figures out what to do with their prisoners. Meeting some Australian prisoners, one of the men, Joe Harman, steals food for the women and is subsequently tortured by the Japanese. After the war, Jean tracks Joe to Australia and they plan to transform a small outback town into a thriving community.
Nevil Shute worked in aviation while writing novels in his spare time. He often wrote about the war, aviation and engineering as well as stories of class and social barriers. Although A Town Like Alice takes a little time to get going, it soon grabbed my attention. Ably narrated by Robin Bailey, the story is told from the point of view of a solicitor, we are introduced to the heroine, Jean Paget, when she comes into some money left by a distant relative. As Jean gets to know the man who is to be the trustee of her inheritance, she begins to tell him the story of her adventures in Malaya, including her friendship with Sergeant Joe Harman. Considering what to do with her money, Jean decides she want to build a well for the women of one of the villages who looked after her. Setting off to oversee the work, she discovers that Joe is alive, and goes to Australia to track him down.
Some of Shute’s language might be termed offensive by modern readers, but as with many books written during the 1950s, it reflects the society of the times. In all other respects, A Town Like Alice is an enjoyable book about ordinary people thrown together in a difficult situation.