I was less than impressed by the most recent winner of the Man Booker Prize. It felt more like three books merged into one, with the Australian surgeon, Dorrigo Evans as the thread that linked them together.
The first part was a love story, rather along the lines of Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. The young Dorrigo spots Amy in a book shop and is smitten. She then turns up again as his uncle's wife and a steamy love affair results. This was without doubt the most readable part of the book, although it did resort to some overly flowery 'Bookeresque' language at times.
The middle section was gruesome and seemingly endless. Having recently read Eric Lomax's account of the brutality of the Japanese on the Burma railway, it was distressing to have to suffer with another group of POWs. I really needed to revert to the previous love story for some light relief, but was not permitted to do so.
Finally the story of each character was wound up, one by one. This felt very pedestrian; one chapter per person, be he Japanese, Australian or Korean. How each was affected by the war, mentally scarred, or held accountable for his actions. There was no resolution of the original love story, leaving me wondering what Amy's purpose was in the book.
In my opinion, the best part, and the only section that really had me gripped, was the bush fire at the end.
Flanagan's father endured the brutality of the Burma Railway, a railway that took the lives of thousands of labourers through starvation, illness and ruthless violence. The Japanese had no respect for the prisoners, they felt they should have committed suicide rather than becoming POWs, as the Japanese Emperor would have expected of his soldiers. If there was one thing that I took away with me, it was an understanding of the mindset of the Japanese and the training that allowed them to be so guiltlessly brutal.