Top positive review
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intriguing story, morally complex, finally moving ; very good indeed
on 21 March 2008
I admire Keneally's Boker prize-winning book. 'Schindler's Ark' (on which the film 'Schindler's List' was based). This, however, is better, I think. Grace, the 'Widow', tells her husband's and her own story. Immediately you learn of his death, messily, by execution at the hands of the Japanese. Then the background of their relationship, his gruelling training in the IRD (Independent Reconnaissance Department), his friendships with Roland Mortmain and Charley Doucette ('The Boss') and the deadly missions on which they were sent, largely devising them themselves, are explored in the first half of the book. After their capture and deaths, Grace has to come to terms with living on, and she makes the necessary human compromises to do so, but the past returns significantly to disturb and distress her, feeding her new information which forces her to revise and adjust the version of events with which she has made that pact that ensures her unquiet peace. This is a painful, sometime agonising process.
It also provides a novel which constantly surprises the reader. The book is a very good read, part adventure story, part exploration of a number of interesting relationships, principally that of Grace and Leo, part investigation of the psychological complexity of Grace's situation after her beloved Leo's death. It is beautifully and quite economically written and often, towards the end, very moving. It examines events that were quite new to me, and though the book is a work of fiction, Keneally acknowledges in his preface that actual operations against Singapore from Australia do provide a historical parallel to his story. I have only one criticism, and it is a minor one. Everything is convincing to me except the manner in which the final revelations, necessary to the plot and our understanding of the men's ultimate motives, is conveyed (this concerns a kind of journal written by Leo). Keneally needs to get that information across ; I did wonder whether, in reality, it is possible to accept the manner in which this is done as plausible and ignore the suspicion that it is a convenient device for the novelist's requirements. But I mention that only because it was in my mind. The book remains very impressive, very enjoyable, and very well worth reading.