August Books 11) A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute
I picked this up last night and really couldn't put it down. Despite the instinctive racism (against Australian aborigines and Japanese, though the Malays get off rather better) and the resounding endorsement of Shute's firmly conservative values, I found Jean Paget a fascinating character - survivor and leader of a group of prisoners in Malaya during the second world war, then pursuing the man she loves and thought was dead to his home in Australia, then when she finds his home town is not the sort of place she wants to spend the rest of her life, she decides to turn it into the sort of place she wants to spend the rest of her life, basically by using her unexpectedly inherited fortune to create a local economy based on employing the local young women. Shute is not exactly a progressive writer, but Jean Paget surely counts as a feminist protagonist even though not written by a feminist author; she challenges and to a certain extent gets around gender roles, particularly in the constrained social environment of 1940's Australia. Even if she does win all her wars, she suffers enough setbacks in the process to keep our sympathy, all told in Shute's crystal-clear, direct prose. I really enjoyed it.