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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical & Profoundly Heard
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!
Published on Sept. 3 2004 by Maria Lake

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Devils and Angels walk a Fascinating World
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,...
Published on July 13 2004 by Peach


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Devils and Angels walk a Fascinating World, July 13 2004
By 
Peach (Sacramento Ca) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Great Fire (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical & Profoundly Heard, Sept. 3 2004
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Ethereal, like an impressionistic painting, July 18 2004
By A Customer
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. Aldred and Peter, the novel's two protaganists find themselves awash and adrift, emotionally disconnected and unable to resume with any conviction the lives they left behind. Fate, as it pans out, is kinder to Aldred than to Peter. He finds courage in reaching out for an innocent love and is finally redeemed by it. Peter is jolted by a squalid encounter with sickness and disease but his act of compassion signalling an unconscious desire to rejoin the living only brings devastating consequences.
The novel's thematic coherence and rich tapestry of colours is reflected in its wondrous characterisation. Some, like the elder Driscolls - frightening in their ugliness, or the prophetic "Ginger" (Japanese POW), may not occupy much page space but they remain firmly etched in our minds long after they have disappeared from the foreground. They and the many others who make fleeting but memorable appearances are the glue that bind the story together.
"The Great Fire" is like a finely chiselled work of art whose appeal may be limited to readers of serious literature. Clearly too, Shirley Hazzard won't be everybody's cup of tea, though readers who're so inclined will find GF an intoxicating read. A gorgeous novel.
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3.0 out of 5 stars An imaginative romance shackled by the narrative voice, July 10 2004
By 
D. Cloyce Smith (Brooklyn, NY) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Great Fire (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. Or because he could not leave well enough alone."
A second, equally irritating fault is the character of Helen; her depiction is fiction as hagiography. Her romantic perfectionism is tiresome: I found her believable neither as an adolescent girl nor as a youth wise beyond her years. Hazzard seems intent on proving that, without miracles and martyrdom, it's difficult to make saints all that interesting.
Nevertheless, those readers who are willing to tackle the challenging prose and forgive the thin characterizations will be gratified by a stirring romance.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Reading this was a painful experience, July 8 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Great Fire (Hardcover)
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. None of the characters are developed very well and in reading this, I often found myself in a state of confusion. It took deep concentration to finish each page and after reading some of the other reviews which suggest re-reading the book, I cannot imagine being able to get through the book a second time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Work, June 30 2004
By 
Lara Dial (Huntington, WV USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Great Fire (Hardcover)
When I saw the average star rating, I was dismayed. When I read some of the reviews, further dismay. The beauty of Shirley Hazzard's language, the subtlety of the storyline, the complexity of the plot, and the emotions spilled forth from the characters all kept me enthralled in the work. Hazzard's understanding of human thought and the details of the various settings amaze me. Furthermore, her ability to convey the plight of a post-war soldier who no longer feels a "purpose" surprises me. Exhaustive qualitative research must have gone into writing The Great Fire, and the narrative reflects this. As I write this, I know that I will pick up the book again very soon, read through my markings (and I so rarely mark in books), and relive some of the majesty of the work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Patience, people-, June 23 2004
By 
P. Shelton (Atlanta, GA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Great Fire (Hardcover)
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 round-about tale ironically requires the reader to compete for the attention in ways today that some are just not accustomed. So few people today posses the patience to stick with such a wordy narrative, in which the author prefers to tell (and my, does she tell well!)insted of show. I read this book in about twice the amount of time it would take with a novel of one of Hazzard's peers. But what a joy the additional time was comprised of. Being able to close my eyes after reading passages and smile at the word play within. What a treat!
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2.0 out of 5 stars a big disappointment, June 22 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Great Fire (Hardcover)
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 what few assets the book possesses. I managed to get through it mainly because I thought that something would finally happen, maybe an unpredictable end or something....wrong. I certainly wouldn't recommend this book to anyone else.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Book, June 17 2004
By 
J. GRAHAM (Sydney,New South Wales Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Great Fire (Hardcover)
I am intrigued by your readers' reviews of The Great Fire. They either love or hate this novel. I am of the former category. Shirley Hazzard has brought alive the post apocolyptic period of the late 1940's with her wonderful prose. This novel shows how the horrors of war affect people and also how they look at life and their futures. A lot of people think Ms Hazzard's writing is mannered. My advice is to read the book again and you might change your mind.
As an Australian I was very pleased to hear that The Great Fire has won our Miles Franklin Award. A truly deserved winner of this prestigious literary prize.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Quite Simply a Masterpiece., April 30 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Great Fire (Hardcover)
A poetic post-war novel that quite simply shows the modern day reader that masterpieces are still being written.
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Great Fire
Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (Paperback - May 1 2004)
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