April 25, 2012

Book: The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:24 am

The story is set in the time when the World War II has just ended and the atomic bombs have just devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Allied forces have occupied Japan and are negotiating post war arrangements.

The story follows 39 year old Aldred Leith, who was in the army and has seen action. He goes to Japan, and the old man whom he wishes to meet dies. On the same day, a Japanese servant kills himself, unable to take abuse from the administrator, an Australian called Driscoll. The Driscolls have two kids, Ben who has a debilitating disease that is slowly killing him and her seventeen year old sister Helen, who is wise and well read and mature beyond her years. He falls in love with Helen.

Peter Exley, Aldred’s friend, is in Hong Kong, and a parallel tale follows him and his adventures involving  the mixed race Rita Xavier and Audrey Fellows who is pretty and single and British. Aldred goes to Hong Kong to meet his friend. When he is back, he discovers that he has a rival for Helen’s affections in  Tad.

In the meanwhile, Ben is sent to US for treatment and Helen shipped to New Zeland mainly because of their parents’ disapproval of her attraction to the older man.

Other characters in the story include Oliver Leith, the famous author and the rather cold father of Aldred, Aurora Searle who had a relationship with both Aldred and Oliver, the sisters Raimonda and Gigliola in Italy during the war, among others.

But the story telling is not great. The story does not hold your interest and worked as a sleeping pill at times for me.

Even momentous events in the story are delivered in an equivalent of a flat monotone. You get the impression that nothing ever happens in this story, until you pause to think of it, and you remember all of the above.

New Zeland is described in consistently derogatory terms – it comes across as a boring, crumbling, rural country with people completely devoid of any confidence and considering themselves completely inferior to the Western countries! It is hard to reconcile the descriptions with either common sense or the landscapes gloriously revealed by Peter Jackson in both the Lord of the Rings series and later in King Kong.

Was a really mediocre storytelling and a lesson in how not to tell a story.

I will give it a 2/10

— Krishna


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