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The Great Fire
by Shirley Hazzard

Paperback 320 pages
(May 6, 2004)
Publisher: Virago Press
ISBN: 1844080579
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Bon Journal

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

The bookcases in the hallway of her Amsterdam flat are full of English books, with few titles I recognise. I told her that I used to raid my London neighbour's bookcase for good books to read in my travels.

"Have you heard of Shirley Hazzard?" she asks.

"No, never."

"Here," she takes out an orange paperback, "read The Great Fire. It's great."

Her enthusiasm is contagious, charging me to read the book so I can adhere to my policy of keeping a promise --- reading a recommended book, writing a review of it, and returning the book so that I can keep to my decluttered state of physical space and mental freedom.

Four months later, I finally start to read this 300-some page novel whose title eludes me. Which great fire? The great fire of London?

I'm sorry to say, it is hard-going for someone who speed-reads through self-help books and Ludlum spy novels. No wonder, it is a literary work of fiction, shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2004, which took some 20 years to write. Although it deserved my attention, I found my mind wandering, not a page-turner nor a gripping novel at all.

Having lived in London and Japan and travelled to Hong Kong, surely I should be able to relate to this just-after-world-war-two-novel. It should bring back the familiar scenes and odours which permeate through time. Perhaps I should appreciate its literary craft rather than plot and character development which I found lacking.

Overall, the novel is slow going for me and the end too predictable. Perhaps I shouldn't have expected a novel in the page-turning style of Anita Shreve who had written on the back cover "a brilliant, brave and sublimely written novel.... among the most transcendent works I've ever had the pleasure of reading." I prefer Shreve.

1 February 2005 Tuesday

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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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