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The Great Fire [Paperback]

Shirley Hazzard
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
Price: 8.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

6 May 2004

The Great Fire is Shirley Hazzard's first novel since The Transit of Venus, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1981. The conflagration of her title is the Second World War. In war-torn Asia and stricken Europe, men and women, still young but veterans of harsh experience, must reinvent their lives and expectations, and learn, from their past, to dream again. Some will fulfill their destinies, others will falter. At the centre of the story, a brave and brilliant soldier finds that survival and worldly achievement are not enough. His counterpart, a young girl living in Occupied Japan and tending her dying brother, falls in love, and in the process discovers herself.

In the looming shadow of world enmities resumed, and of Asia's coming centrality in world affairs, a man and a woman seek to recover self-reliance, balance, and tenderness, struggling to reclaim their humanity.


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The Great Fire + The Transit Of Venus (VMC) + The Bay Of Noon (VMC)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Ed edition (6 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844080579
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844080571
  • Product Dimensions: 12.4 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 272,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Shirley Hazzard. For me, the greatest living writer on goodness and love . . . THE GREAT FIRE so overwhelmed me that I came close to being unable to read the last three pages. If the last sentence doesn't make you gasp and weep, you are not fully conscious . . . Shirley Hazzard, the quiet, playful, lovestruck artist of love, goodness and death in the 20th century. ' Bryan Appleyard ('I wish there were a set of words like 'brilliant')

and 'dazzling (that we saved for only the rarest occasions, so that when I tell you THE GREAT FIRE is brilliant and dazzling you would know it is the absolute truth. This is a book that is worth a twenty-year wait.')

Ann Patchett, author of BEL CANTO ('Shirley Hazzard has written an hypnotic novel that unfolds like a dream: Japan, Southeast Asia, the end of one war and the beginning of another, the colonial order gone, and at the center of it all, a love story.')

Joan Didion ('Shirley Hazzard is, purely and simply, one of the greatest writers working in English today. Which makes me more than grateful to have this long-hoped for new novel.')

Book Description

The sweeping story of men and women struggling to reclaim their lives in the aftermath of world conflict by 'one of the greatest writers working in English today' (Michael Cunningham) and Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orange shortlisted and stunning. 11 Jun 2004
Format:Paperback
The Great Fire was one of the less-talked about of the Orange Prize shortlist, which seems a little unfair.
Shirley Hazzard is one of those incredible novelists who has produced a minute body of work over a forty year period, but has to be one of the most significant writers alive. The Great Fire is an odd love story, one which handled differently could be an inappropriate love story: that of a 33 year old man for a 17 year old girl. But Hazzard manages to make it plausible, painful and beautiful and most of all understandable. In the convulsions of the immediate post war world her characters are all beached to some degree by the awfulness of it. Others have written of this kind of bitter enduring after trauma, loss, agony, but few so powerfully or precisely. I have to say I was surprised that she has pulled off a happy ending in this lyrically sad world - though not for all of her characters.
Of the many things that impress about Hazzard it is her understatedness that has the greatest impact. I have always admired her work and twenty-three years is a long wait between novels, but I can only assume that those twenty-three years have been spent ensuring that not one single word is wasted or misused. It is pin-point perfect throughout. The endorsements on the book's back cover are from great writers, writers I read and admire, but they are all pale in comparison to Shirley Hazzard's massive talent. Let it inspire you to find her other books as well.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for the want of trying 24 Aug 2009
By Mrs. K. A. Wheatley TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
I had read all the fantastic reviews and plaudits this book gained. I have had people I trust recommend the book to me, and consequently I was as keen as mustard to give it a go. Unfortunately it just did not work for me. I genuinely cannot see what all the fuss is about and am baffled as to why this book took ten years to write.

It is not a bad book for all that. The story is coherent. It has engaging themes that are well defined and subtly threaded through the story. It is full of atmosphere and the characters seem real and human rather than vehicles by which to get a message across. All the ingredients are there, but for me they just didn't gel together to make a coherent, compelling whole.

I found the pace too ponderous and the style too disconnected from the subject matter. It was as if I were reading the story from a great distance, or separated from it by a pane of glass. The style I think is my main issue here. It is a curious amalgam where sometimes it is very hard to fathom which character is which, and I found myself having to go through and reread certain pages just to make sure I had understood things properly.

I think this is a marmite book. You're either going to absolutely love her style or hate it, and I'm afraid I don't fall into the love camp at all.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Moving 18 Dec 2006
Format:Paperback
Shirley Hazzard is a writer's writer; often her prose is designed to appeal only to those literati that understand her references. Not so with the Great Fire. Against the backdrop of the unspeakable pain of Hiroshima, she weaves a love story full of subtle messages about morality and behaviour. The characters aren't easy to relate to your own experience, but the music of the words is stronger in this book than any of her other works. If you want an easy to read adventure story, forget it. If you're prepared to take it slowly, savouring the words, this book will repay the effort.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Simply unengaging 19 Aug 2005
Format:Paperback
As I began this novel my instincts were that I struggle to "gel" with the narrative and engage with the story. But i persisted... My instinct was right. I failed to engage with the story at any level and I simply didn't care about what happened to the characters. I didn't dislike them, I didn't dislike the story, I just found it exceptionally uninspiring and ever so slightly dull. I haven't been put off reading other Hazzard novels. However, I found this particular novel a very unsatisfying read
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cataclysm of love and longing after war 13 Jan 2004
Format:Hardcover
Shirley Hazzard is one of those incredible novelists who has produced a minute body of work over a forty year period, but has to be one of the most significant writers alive. The Great Fire is an odd love story, one which handled differently could be an inappropriate love story: that of a 33 year old man for a 17 year old girl. But Hazzard manages to make it plausible, painful and beautiful and most of all understandable. In the convulsions of the immediate post war world her characters are all beached to some degree by the awfulness of it. Others have written of this kind of bitter enduring after trauma, loss, agony, but few so powerfully or precisely. I have to say I was surprised that she has pulled off a happy ending in this lyrically sad world - though not for all of her characters.
Of the many things that impress about Hazzard it is her understatedness that has the greatest impact. I have always admired her work and twenty-three years is a long wait between novels, but I can only assume that those twenty-three years have been spent ensuring that not one single word is wasted or misused. It is pin-point perfect throughout. The endorsements on the book's back cover are from great writers, writers I read and admire, but they are all pale in comparison to Shirley Hazzard's massive talent. Let it inspire you to find her other books as well.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Writing and Clever Plot
A lyrical, very original story of an unconventional love affair between Aldred, a 30-something former soldier and explorer, recovering from World War II, and Helen a teenage... Read more
Published on 31 Jan 2012 by Kate Hopkins
4.0 out of 5 stars better than Transit
The Great Fire is the 5th novel by Australian author, Shirley Hazzard. Set firstly in immediate post-war Japan and Hong Kong, then in England and New Zealand, this is the story of... Read more
Published on 2 Aug 2011 by Cloggie Downunder
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superior Read
This is a simple story, beautifully told, with exquisite and resonant language, delicate observation, lights and shades, a book to delight in.
Published on 2 Sep 2010 by Cara, passionatereader.com
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest novels I have ever read
Every word, every phrase and every sentence in this extraordinary work of art is chosen with great care. Her love of words shines through, just like the greatest of poets. Read more
Published on 20 May 2010 by K. Bates
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull and pretentious....
Given other glowing reviews (especially on the book jacket) I was expecting to really enjoy this book. Read more
Published on 12 April 2010 by Alison Mcnicol
3.0 out of 5 stars unconvinced
As other reviewers have said, it is the writing style that is a problem here. The narrative is engaging and well-crafted; the love story is likeable, as are the characters. Read more
Published on 25 Nov 2009 by Amy J.
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly crafted writing
This is one of the very best and most lyrical books I have ever read. The writing is polished and spare, every word counts, and the prose is poetic, and can only be compared with... Read more
Published on 28 April 2008 by Woodpecker
4.0 out of 5 stars Well I liked it...!
I haven't read any Hazzard before so cannot compare it to any other work - but that's not the point really. Read more
Published on 22 Mar 2006
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment
After reading the glowing blurbs on the back cover, I was expecting to be really engrossed. It never happened. Read more
Published on 8 Mar 2006 by Saul Rosenthal
2.0 out of 5 stars Dreary and stilted
This is no Transit of Venus. The Great Fire never gets off the ground, not only because the plot is tied to the protagonist's not especially moving love for a teenager who speaks... Read more
Published on 22 May 2005
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