Monday, 15 February 2010

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

I've been reading A Town Like Alice, after being amazed by the unflinching bleakness of On the Beach, which I read last year. The central relationship in A Town Like Alice doesn't make much psychological sense to me and, although it isn't boring, the book is hair-raisingly old-fashioned in its attitudes towards sex (even though in other respects its central character could be seen as a semi-feminist role model) and shocking to the modern reader in its acceptance of a kind of unwritten apartheid in the outback. To top it all, in the bit I've just read the heroine has bullied her bank manager into carting gallons of DDT into the small outback town where she lives and spraying the stuff all over his branch and customers, to get rid of flies. This is seen by everyone in the book as a very good thing. At the time, presumably, they couldn't have known that it wasn't. Nowadays though not only do we know better; we also trust 'miracle' products like DDT - and the people who sell them to us - a great deal less. There is a sense of optimism about progress and improving life through industry that runs through the latter half of the book and a strong belief in the superiority of the English speaking world in the first section. Those attitudes probably date the novel more than anything else.

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