Richard Flanagan has become the third Australian to win the Man Booker Prize for his epic war novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Set during World War II on the infamous Burma railway line, the novel follows the travails on a Weary Dunlop-esque character as he struggles to keep his men alive during the death marches, and spans both his pre and post war life. It is searingly graphic in places and deeply moving.
At its heart, it’s a love story – of loves missed and lost and has much to say about the nature of evil and Australian masculinity.
The book, a 10-year labour of love for Tasmania-based Flanagan, was in part inspired by his own father, Archie, who survived the Burma railway and died, aged 98, just before Anzac Day last year, on the day he’d rung his son and was told the book was finished.
The chair of the judges AC Grayling called it “an absolutely superb novel, a really outstanding work of literature”.
“It is not really a war novel, it is not about people shooting one another and bombs going off, it is much more about people, their experience and their relationships. What’s interesting about it is that it is very nuanced, as if everyone on the Burma railway, both sides of the story, were victims,” he said.
“The best and worst of judging books is when you come across one that kicks you so hard you can’t pick up the next one on the pile for a couple of days, it delays you but you know you’ve met something extraordinary. That’s what happened in the case of this book.”
Flanagan is the third Australian, after Thomas Keneally and Peter Carey, to win the prestigious £50,000 prize, which was presented to him in London by the Duchess of Cornwall at Guildhall, London.
Flanagan three British authors, Howard Jacobson, Ali Smith and Neel Mukherjee, and for the first time American novelists: Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler, after the 46th award was opened up to allow any author writing in English.
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