The Great Fire: A Novel Paperback – Jul 1 2004
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Despite this Australian writer's absence from the world's fiction stage--since the 1981 publication of The Transit of Venus, which earned her great acclaim, including the National Book Critics' Circle Award--her readers have continued to hold hands in devotion and anticipation. Their thrill over her new novel will be completed; the long days and nights of waiting will be forgotten. Time and place have always been exactly evoked in Hazzard's fiction, and such is the case here. The time is 1947-48, and the place is, primarily, East Asia. Obviously, then, this is a locale much altered--by the events of World War II, of course, and, as we see, physical destruction and psychological wariness and weariness lay over the land. Our hero, and indeed he fills the requirements to be called one, is Aldred Leith, who is English and part of the occupation forces in Japan; his particular military task is damage survey. He has an interesting past, including, most recently, a two-year walk across civil-war-torn China to write a book. In the present, which readers will feel they inhabit right along with Leith, by way of Hazzard's beautifully atmospheric prose, he meets the teenage daughter and younger son of a local Australian commander. And, as Helen is growing headlong into womanhood, this novel of war's aftermath becomes a story of love--or more to the point, of the restoration of the capacity for love once global and personal trauma have been shed. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Beauty is felt in almost every line of this austerely gorgeous work.” ―Chicago Tribune
“So majestic in scope and so sophisticated in diction it evokes a rhapsodic gratitude in the reader...Calls to mind the writerly command of A.S. Byatt, Lawrence Durrell, Nadine Gordimer, and Graham Greene.” ―The San Diego Union-Tribune
“The last masterpiece of a vanished age of civility.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“[The Great Fire] sails into port like a magnificent ship of fiction from another era.” ―Entertainment Weekly
“The Great Fire is about both the destructive conflagrations of war and the restorative conflagrations of the heart. Hazzard's moving, generous story paints love as the greatest rescuer of all--as apt today in our troubling, troubled world as it was 55 years ago.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“Hazzard writes with an extraordinary command of geography and time.... Flashes of violence cut through the contemplative narrative, but in her exquisitely cut sentences, hazzard concentrates on the subtler movements of these hearts cauterized by violence.” ―The Christian Science Monitor
“A 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, author of Where I Was FromSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The Great Fire brings to mind one of Nevil Shute's postwar novels of The Pacific and England (eg The Trustee From The Toolroom or A Town Like Alice). Both authors are interested in the personal, cultural and political changes brought on by the war. Shute's characters were also black-and-white for the most part but they surprise one on occasion, as if all this meaning-of-life pondering has changed them in some way. I doubt that Shute considered himself a literary writer--he probably considered them "fightin' words"--but I have to give this matchup to him.
Hazzard's descriptive prose is spare, picturesque and precise, each word crystallising on the printed page like a hand picked gem. Her dialogue is terse, sometimes awkward. Nobody speaks like that, you catch yourself thinking, before you realise that maybe Hazzard never intended to capture the flow and cadence of natural speech anyway. Each word is laden with so much meaning there's almost a history behind it. GF is a challenging read but the riches within make the effort worthwhile.
The post-2WW landscape in Asia as described by Hazzard is one of utter desolation, filled with ashes from the ruins of torn lives. The burden of victory oppresses the survivors as much as death and humiliation haunts the conquered. There are no winners.Read more ›
And I did love the story; it's about as old-fashioned a romance as you can find these days. But the author's prose threatens to swamp an otherwise insightful, magical book. The New York Times reviewer is kind, noting that although "Shirley Hazzard has a blithe disdain for postmodern pieties. . . . her elliptical style will quickly try the patience of all but the most devoted reader." Another reader comments here that "The dialogue and speech [are] completely inappropriate for the time. She seems to forget that this novel was not set in Victorian England."
Both these criticisms hone in on the problems I have with this book. It's not her prose style that's Victorian: Hazzard's writing is definitely modern (i.e., "elliptical"), but her narrative voice is from a previous century. She borrows Trollope's brain and writes with Joyce's pen. The result is a clinical detachment that can be intrusive and jarring: as omniscient narrator, she tends to spell out the psychological state of her characters rather than allow their actions and behaviors to speak for themselves. At times, it's like reading a New Age psychology text: "Attempts, with Rita Xavier, to deliver something of his soul always miscarried. But he returned to them--because he could not help believing in the sensibility of wounded persons.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
My husband and I loved this book. Shirley Hazzard writes this love story in such a beautiful way that I had to stop and read him a paragaraph here and there at night before he... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Carolyn Ernest-Jones
It is rare when a writer comes along and writes a poetic novel, wherein every sentence is a lyric, full of inspiration and pulse. Read morePublished on Sept. 3 2004 by Maria Lake
I really wanted to like this book--the plot framework was interesting enough. But the execution--aaargh! Hazzard's language was excruciating to read. Read morePublished on July 19 2004
I would not recommend this book to anyone. The author's wordiness is very hard to sift through and the plot is very much lacking interest. Read morePublished on July 8 2004
When I saw the average star rating, I was dismayed. When I read some of the reviews, further dismay. Read morePublished on June 29 2004 by Lara Dial
I'm amazed by the polorization this book has wrought on the Amazon critical masses. In this media driven society where artists compete for attention, we have Hazzard, whose... Read morePublished on June 22 2004 by P. Shelton
I simply can't understand why this book was a National Book Award winner. True, the writer is masterful at description, but the dialog is so stilted, so pretentious, that it mars... Read morePublished on June 22 2004
I am intrigued by your readers' reviews of The Great Fire. They either love or hate this novel. I am of the former category. Read morePublished on June 17 2004 by J. GRAHAM