You know, I really wanted to like The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I got it as a Christmas present a few years ago, and because it was a gift and because A.C. Grayling had promised me very earnestly on the dust-cover that it was ‘A masterpiece’, I had high hopes.
Alas, alackaday. Those hopes were dashed.
Thing is, there were lots of promising things at the outset. The setting – a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, mid 20th Century Australia – was unusual and intriguing, and I liked the way the narrative jumped around in time.
So why did I hate it? I promise I tried. I thought I had given up several times, but I kept coming back because surely a Man Booker Prize-winning novel ought to have some merits? Well, the problem with this was not the man booker, but the woman booker. That is to say, the female protagonist (or more correctly, and indeed disturbingly accurately, the love object) was the flimsiest and most implausible female character I have read sine the hoo-er in Rabbit, Run who let the whole thing down. She has eyes like a gas flame (so, like, blue) and has Manic Pixie Dream Girl written all over her. She doesn’t feel authentic at all as a woman for reasons that I will not rehearse in this polite company.
What did it for me (and I have edited this line with the addition of an ‘l’ so as to not offend) was the moment in which this character, feeling amorous towards her gentleman lover, muses that she ‘longed to have his lovely clock in her mouth… in front of them all’.
I couldn’t carry on. I couldn’t take it seriously! This isn’t “what do women think?” this is “what do men like to imagine that women think?” I’m not saying no woman has ever thought this, but what he is selling I ain’t buying. I guess it’s some male fantasy that women exist to give pleasure, but I’ve heard that track a hundred times before.
Masterpiece? Maybe to A.C. Grayling. Not to me.
Reviewed by Louise