I've spent a few weeks reading Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road To The Deep North, which won the Booker Prize last year. The ladies in my book club had said it was wonderful, and it was on sale and fell into my hands in the bookshop, as books often do.
The story is about POWs in WWII and their return to Australia. It's mostly set in the POW camps for the Burma Railway. I've read quite a few war stories and they're all shocking and gut-wrenching but this one is so graphic and harrowing and awful, I really struggled to keep reading it at times.
The characters in the book aren't 'nice' at all. They're more than flawed too. There are some lovely moments though, but on the whole I didn't 'like' the people I was reading about. Maybe that's something to do with all the romance genre reading where identifying with a character in some way is almost necessary, but I think I would have felt like this even without being a romance writer.
The book is well-written and it gives a view of both the Aussie POWs and also the Japanese and Korean soldiers...and that's interesting as few war stories show both sides, and never (that I've read anyway) make the 'enemy' human and give reasons for their behaviour which are believable and maybe almost understandable.
I find prize-winning books often are heavy going, and this is no different. Foal's Bread was another recent prize-winner that was well-written but harrowing. Maybe there's a fad for harrowing stories at the moment. Although I don't find these easy reads, and I would never say I enjoyed reading them, I do believe there's a need for them and these books should be written, and read.
I'm off to read something much lighter now.