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Old 02-24-2013, 06:24 PM   #31
caleb72
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Again, I didn't mind the racism as part of the story, but the book itself just isn't very good. We're not talking Merchant of Venice territory here. Alice, ironically, reads to me like typical book club fare of half a decade ago; it's dated and I don't think it deserves to be read as literature, although it has some interest as sociology. Books and most other matters of art and taste seem to go through a trajectory--current to dated. The issue is whether it emerges as classic or just period or is entirely forgotten. At best, Alice is period and it's good enough of that ilk. The story holds your attention.
Tend to agree with this. For me it was the story not the writing that pleased me. Before reading I had it tagged in my collection as Classics, Drama. After reading I removed the Classics and in no way felt compelled to add the tag Literary. Drama is fine for this novel.
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Old 02-24-2013, 06:44 PM   #32
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My reaction is that the racism in the Australia portion is that, unfortunately, it really was unconscious. Shute went to great pains to show Jean as understanding in the Malaya portion of the book, so the contrast is telling to me.

I know it's outside the purlieus of this story, but think about Jean's prewar life in Malaya. The situation with the white rancher and his wife must have been fairly common on the rubber plantations in Malaya, although most of the interracial couples wouldn't have been married, and the woman and any children would have been abandoned if the rancher went back to England. In any case, Jean would have been well aware of it even if she didn't meet the men and their women socially. So why the shock and dismay in Australia? Especially since this seems to be a far better situation according to the morals of the time. The couple was married and the rancher wasn't leaving. The key element has to be race. So either it's because Shute has a different reaction to miscegenation with Asians or he just wasn't thinking about the implications of his story; I suspect some of both.
Not sure what Shute felt about miscegenation in Malaya especially as he never mentions mixed couples or Jean's reaction to them in that section of the story. He may have missed the mark a bit with the handling of Malaya and just went with what suited him for the story.

He lived in Australia in the 50s so he might have had a bit more exposure. I'm not actually sure what exposure he had to Alice Springs and gulf country though. I've lived in Australia all my life and haven't had that much exposure to either. I think the closest I've got to gulf country was a holiday to Port Douglas/Cairns - not exactly a thorough exploration.
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Old 02-24-2013, 06:52 PM   #33
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Some of the A.M. & C.N. Williamson "travel" novels {available in the Mobile Read ebook library} have suffered the fate of being "forgotten"--even though some are quite good stories and were best sellers in the Edwardian and Georgian periods and were made into {silent} films.
Funny! I tried reading Set in Silver by the Williamsons a while ago and bailed about a third of the way. I really do enjoy romances of the turn of the last century--think Hope, McCutcheon, Du Maurier (Gerald, not Daphne)--but I think the genre had been played out by the 20s. Period romances of that time seem to have been compelled to adopt an arch, essentially meta attitude, and I don't think it worked.

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Old 02-24-2013, 06:59 PM   #34
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He may have missed the mark a bit with the handling of Malaya and just went with what suited him for the story.
Honestly, that's why I'm calling him a hack. He's a good raconteur, but I don't think he cared enough about the underpinnings of his story. I suspect, for example, that he knew he ran into a problem with the omniscient Strachan, but essentially said the hell with it.
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Old 02-24-2013, 09:43 PM   #35
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Honestly, that's why I'm calling him a hack. He's a good raconteur, but I don't think he cared enough about the underpinnings of his story. I suspect, for example, that he knew he ran into a problem with the omniscient Strachan, but essentially said the hell with it.
You're probably right there. But still, I'll happily keep On the Beach on my TBR list. Sometimes it's nice to have a bit of hack here and there. Meanwhile, I'm really struggling with Lolita even though it's clearly well written.
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Old 02-26-2013, 04:37 PM   #36
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But still, I'll happily keep On the Beach on my TBR list.
I read On the Beach. I did like like it better then A Town Called Alice. It didn't have flaws that were so noticeable.
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Old 03-04-2013, 09:03 AM   #37
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I read Shute's No Highway last year. It was the first Shute I had read, and happens to be the book before A Town Like Alice. It suffers from the same omniscient narrator issue, and has the same unnecessary ending with the decision to write the book. I just saw it as a stylistic quirk, and went with it.

My general feeling from Alice is that Shute was a great story-teller. It almost doesn't seem to matter what he's talking about, he has the knack of keeping you interested.

The casual racism is really a cause for disappointment with the past rather than with Shute. I think he was generally more aware of it than most - as the Malaya section shows - and I believe his earlier book The Chequer Board covers the subject in some depth, but it's so ingrained that he can't help doing it himself. The attitudes to the role of women aren't exactly modern, either, but at least Jean is a strong and forward-looking character.
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Old 03-04-2013, 09:40 AM   #38
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The casual racism is really a cause for disappointment with the past rather than with Shute.
Perfectly stated.
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Old 03-04-2013, 10:19 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by DrNefario
The casual racism is really a cause for disappointment with the past rather than with Shute.

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Perfectly stated.
I agree. I never really consciously thought about it in those terms--and you're right.
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Old 03-04-2013, 01:28 PM   #40
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I look at racism in books written prior to the Civil Rights movement in the 60s very differently than I do racism in books written since. The phrase "consciousness-raising" was used extensively in the 60s to describe the process of enlightening the unaware and awakening the sleepers. Many people simply never had taken the time to challenge the assumptions with which they had been raised, which is hardly surprising as people generally don't change their learned ways of thinking and acting until something or someone first makes them aware that a change is needed.
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Old 03-04-2013, 03:05 PM   #41
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I look at racism in books written prior to the Civil Rights movement in the 60s very differently than I do racism in books written since. The phrase "consciousness-raising" was used extensively in the 60s to describe the process of enlightening the unaware and awakening the sleepers. Many people simply never had taken the time to challenge the assumptions with which they had been raised, which is hardly surprising as people generally don't change their learned ways of thinking and acting until something or someone first makes them aware that a change is needed.
Very true. I was in Rhodesia (later to become Zimbabwe) in my formative years - 11 to 18 - and at first just accepted the status quo (not as bad as South Africa, but still very much along the same lines), whilst still trying to treat everyone equitably on a personal level. It was only when I was asked by one of the locals to teach him to speak and write English that I started to see the iniquities and try to do something about it.

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Old 03-05-2013, 02:04 AM   #42
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My general feeling from Alice is that Shute was a great story-teller. It almost doesn't seem to matter what he's talking about, he has the knack of keeping you interested.
Absolutely. That's a great way of putting it.

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The casual racism is really a cause for disappointment with the past rather than with Shute.
Also a very good way of putting it. It is disappointing. What disappoints me more though is that the resilient strain of such attitudes that remains today is the one that is born of hatred and ill-intent rather than of ignorance or some kind of social inertia.
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Old 03-05-2013, 03:48 AM   #43
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..........

Again, I didn't mind the racism as part of the story, but the book itself just isn't very good. We're not talking Merchant of Venice territory here. Alice, ironically, reads to me like typical book club fare of half a decade ago; it's dated and I don't think it deserves to be read as literature, although it has some interest as sociology. Books and most other matters of art and taste seem to go through a trajectory--current to dated. The issue is whether it emerges as classic or just period or is entirely forgotten. At best, Alice is period and it's good enough of that ilk. The story holds your attention.
Yes, I agree about the 'book club fare'. I read tons of it as a child and it brought me back to those days with its prejudices, morals and restrictions.
But I liked to read the uncomplicated, heroic story of Jean; she succeeded in all she did, married a nice guy, 'happy endings' and all that.
I wouldn't have chosen it to buy though, as I have a restricted budget for books.....
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Tend to agree with this. For me it was the story not the writing that pleased me. Before reading I had it tagged in my collection as Classics, Drama. After reading I removed the Classics and in no way felt compelled to add the tag Literary. Drama is fine for this novel.
Romance is an good tag, I think. The book can perhaps be called 'classic' in the sense that it is typically a product of the fifties. It is not a challenge for me read, as is often the case with classics, but rather a 'journey back in time'.
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I look at racism in books written prior to the Civil Rights movement in the 60s very differently than I do racism in books written since. The phrase "consciousness-raising" was used extensively in the 60s to describe the process of enlightening the unaware and awakening the sleepers. Many people simply never had taken the time to challenge the assumptions with which they had been raised, which is hardly surprising as people generally don't change their learned ways of thinking and acting until something or someone first makes them aware that a change is needed.
I know I took that racism for granted, and only began to question and reject it when I was a teenager and educated myself about it (Uncle Tom's cabin and To kill a mockingbird were the books I read).
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Old 03-06-2013, 03:36 PM   #44
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I don't know that I'd call A Town Like Alice a classic. But it is a good story overall. If you can ignore or get past the flaws such as the narrator knowing more then he should, it works. The prejudice is what was for the time and it makes things more authentic even though we may not agree or even like it.
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