This is a novel of many parts, cemented together by the author’s love for the written word. Flanagan once describes this love from the point of view of an illiterate Tasmanian trapper who saw stories to be a fantastic journey or, as AC Grayling said of Flanagan’s novel when awarding the 2014 Man Booker, to be like riding a comet. The quotidian dusty colour of interbellum Australia, the inhumanity of the Thai Burma railway that reacted to produce such humanity, the dystopia of post-war Japan, the folly and perfection of love, these are all elements that fuse in Flanagan’s tribute to the written word.
While always a rich and colourful novel, Flanagan employs lean prose, with a paucity of adjectives, to incise more deeply into the meaning of an event. He does not judge, he simply observes, to sink into a portrayal of events which becomes breathtaking, then alarming. By not pigeon-holing personal histories into the values of any one generation or any one culture, he has created a classic. As Flanagan’s protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, confronts horrors beyond logic or belief, he grapples with the ephemeral nature of memory, tapping into an obsession of human purpose as old as the Iliad. This novel is many things but it is not a love story, it is a story of love. Through love, Flanagan assigns purpose to horror, contradiction, failure and hope. It is a most satisfying and understated examination of the human condition.