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The Great Fire: A Novel Paperback – Jul 1 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (July 1 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312423586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312423582
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #369,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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3.3 out of 5 stars
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Peach on July 13 2004
Format: Hardcover
After loving The Transit Of Venus in 1981 and waiting impatiently for Hazard's next novel, I am horribly disappointed by it. I enjoyed her prose, very much liked the settings, appreciated glimpsing a fascinating time....but the characters are one dimensional paper dolls. The Bad Guys, Mr and Mrs Driscoll and Slater, are tacky and cruel while the Good Guys, Helen, Ben, Aldred and Peter, are kind and graceful and should be examples to us all. They ponder The Meaning Of Life and do naught but good. Why, their very thoughts are generous and wholesome at all times! Finally, everything I liked about the book is spoiled.
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Maria Lake on Sept. 3 2004
Format: Paperback
It is rare when a writer comes along and writes a poetic novel, wherein every sentence is a lyric, full of inspiration and pulse. I am reminded of Susan Minot's EVENING, and Maeve Binchy's NIGHTS OF RAIN AND STARS, and Jennifer Paddock's A SECRET WORD. Like all these novels, these scores of the human heart, THE GREAT FIRE roars!
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By A Customer on July 18 2004
Format: Paperback
Shirley Hazzard, the celebrated authoress from Australia who obviously subscribes to the dictum of less is more, took more than 20 years to follow up her famous 1981 National Book Circle Award winning novel ("The Transit of Venus") with yet another award winner. This time, she bagged the 2003 National Book Award for fiction with "The Great Fire (GF)". While critical reviews have been ecstatic, the reading public appears to be polarised between those who adore it and those who loathe it. Me, I love it because it's right up my alley - ethereal and cerebral, yet curiously gothic. The experience is akin to one gained from staring at a great painting and imagining the lives of its subject on canvass. Turner's impressionist painting on the cover of the British paperback version is particularly resonant. Readers who draw on the immediacy of emotions for their enjoyment of a novel may find the effect of Hazzard's writing style distancing, bloodless, sometimes even unreal.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Here's a story many readers would love: on the outskirts of Hiroshima, members of the victorious Allied forces look for love, for redemption, for recovery. A 17-year-old girl, caring for her terminally ill brother, and a much older British veteran, finishing his research for a book on Asia, fall in love amidst the ruins. The (still chaste) couple are then separated by her "evil" parents and they (more or less) wander the earth hoping to be reunited.
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.
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