A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice

4.4 56
by Nevil Shute, Carine Montbertrand

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"A harrowing, exciting, and in the end very satisfying war romance."
A TOWN LIKE ALICE tells of a young woman who miraculously survived a Japanese "death march" in World War II, and of an Australian soldier, also a prisoner of war, who offered to help her—even at the cost of his life....
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"A harrowing, exciting, and in the end very satisfying war romance."
A TOWN LIKE ALICE tells of a young woman who miraculously survived a Japanese "death march" in World War II, and of an Australian soldier, also a prisoner of war, who offered to help her—even at the cost of his life....

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Entertaining. . . . Dramatic. . . . Shute is a natural and effective story-teller.” —The New York Times

“A ripping tale of budding romance and grace under pressure.” —The Times (London)

"A harrowing, exciting, and in the end very satisfying war romance." —Harper's

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A Town Like Alice

By Nevil Shute


Copyright © 2010 Nevil Shute
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780307474001


James Macfadden died in March 1905 when he was forty-seven years old; he was riding in the Driffield Point-to-Point. He left the bulk of his money to his son Douglas. The Macfaddens and the Dalhousies at that time lived in Perth, and Douglas was a school friend of Jock Dalhousie, who was a young man then, and had gone to London to become junior partner in a firm of solicitors in Chancery Lane, Owen, Dalhousie, and Peters. I am now the senior partner, and Owen and Dalhousie and Peters have been dead for many years, but I never changed the name of the firm.

It was natural that Douglas Macfadden should put his affairs into the hands of Jock Dalhousie, and Mr Dalhousie handled them personally till he died in 1928. In splitting up the work I took Mr Macfadden on to my list of clients, and forgot about him in the pressure of other matters.

It was not until 1935 that any business for him came up. I had a letter from him then, from an address in Ayr. He said that his brother-in-law, Arthur Paget, had been killed in a motor car accident in Malaya and so he wanted to redraft his will to make a trust in favour of his sister Jean and her two children. I am sorry to say that I was so ignorant of this client that I did not even know he was unmarried and had no issue of his own. He finished up by saying that he was too unwell totravel down to London, and he suggested that perhaps a junior member of the firm might be sent up to see him and arrange the matter.

This fitted in with my arrangements fairly well, because when I got this letter I was just leaving for a fortnight's fishing holiday on Loch Shiel. I wrote and told him that I would visit him on my way south, and I put the file concerning his affairs in the bottom of my suitcase to study one evening during my vacation.

When I got to Ayr I took a room at the Station Hotel, because in our correspondence there had been no suggestion that he could put me up. I changed out of my plus-fours into -a dark business suit, and went to call upon my client.

He did not live at all in the manner I had expected. I did not know much about his estate except that it was probably well over twenty thousand pounds, and I had expected to find my client living in a house with a servant or two. Instead, I discovered that he had a bedroom and a sitting-room on the same floor of a small private hotel just off the sea front. He was evidently leading the life of an invalid though he was hardly more than fifty years old at that time, ten years younger than I was myself. He was as frail as an old lady of eighty, and he had a peculiar grey look about him which didn't look at all good to me. All the windows of his sitting-room were shut and after the clean air of the lochs and moors I found his room stuffy and close; he had a number of budgerigars in cages in the window, and the smell of these birds made the room very unpleasant. It was clear from the furnishings that he had lived in that hotel and in that room for a good many years.

He told me something about his life as we discussed the will; he was quite affable, and pleased that I had been able to come to visit him myself. He seemed to be an educated man, though he spoke with a marked Scots accent. 'I live very quietly, Mr Strachan,' he said. 'My health will not permit me to go far abroad. Whiles I get out upon the front on a fine day and sit for a time, and then again Maggie - that's the daughter of Mrs Doyle who keeps the house - Maggie wheels me out in the chair. They are very good to me here.'

Turning to the matter of the will, he told me that he had no close relatives at all except his sister, Jean Paget. 'Forbye my father might have left what you might call an indiscretion or two in Australia,' he said. 'I would not say that there might not be some of those about, though I have never met one, or corresponded. Jean told me once that my mother had been sore distressed. Women talk about these things, of course, and my father was a lusty type of man.'

His sister Jean had been an officer in the WAACs in the 1914-1918 War, and she had married a Captain Paget in the spring of 1917. 'It was not a very usual sort of marriage,' he said thoughtfully. 'You must remember that my sister Jean had never been out of Scotland till she joined the army, and the greater part of her life had been spent in Perth. Arthur Paget was an Englishman from Southampton, in Hampshire. I have nothing against Arthur, but we had all naturally thought that Jean would have married a Scot. Still, I would not say but it has been a happy marriage, or as happy as most.'

After the war was over Arthur Paget had got a job upon a rubber estate in Malaya somewhere near Taiping, and Jean, of course, went out there with him. From that time Douglas Macfadden had seen little of his sister; she had been home on leave in 1926 and again in 1932. She had two children, Donald born in 1918 and Jean born in 1921; these children had been left in England in 1932 to live with the Paget parents and to go to school in Southampton, while their mother returned to Malaya. My client had seen them only once, in 1932 when their mother brought them up to Scotland.

The present position was that Arthur Paget had been killed in a motor accident somewhere near Ipoh; he had been driving home at night from Kuala Lumpur and had driven off the road at a high speed and hit a tree. Probably he fell asleep. His widow, Jean Paget, was in England; she had come home a year or so before his death and she had taken a small house in Bassett just outside Southampton to make a home for the children and to be near their schools. It was a sensible arrangement, of course, but it seemed to me to be a pity that the brother and the sister could not have arranged to live nearer to each other. -I fancy that my client regretted the distance that separated them, because he referred to it more than once.

He wanted to revise his will. His existing will was a very simple one, in which he left his entire estate to his sister Jean. 'I would not alter that,' he said. 'But you must understand that Arthur Paget was alive when 1 made that will, and that in the nature of things 1expected him to be alive when Jean inherited from me, and 1 expected that he would be there to guide her in matters of business. 1 shall not make old bones.'

He seemed to have a fixed idea that all women were unworldly creatures and incapable of looking after money; they were irresponsible, and at the mercy of any adventurer. Accordingly, although he wanted his sister to have the full use of his money after his death, he wanted to create a trust to ensure that her son Donald, at that time a schoolboy, should inherit the whole estate intact after his mother's death. There was, of course, no special difficulty in that. I presented to him the various pros and cons of a trust such as he envisaged, and 1 reminded him that a small legacy to Mrs Doyle, in whose house he had lived for so many years, might not be out of place provided that he was still living with them at the time of his death. He agreed to that. He told me then that he had no close relations living, and he asked me if I would undertake to be the sole trustee of his estate and the executor of his will. That is the sort of business a family solicitor frequently takes on his shoulders, of course. I told him that in view of my age he should appoint a co-trustee, and he agreed to the insertion of our junior partner, Mr Lester Robinson, to be co-trustee with me. He also agreed to a charging clause for our professional services in connection with the trust.

There only remained to tidy up the loose ends of what was, after all, a fairly simple will. I asked him what should happen if both he and his sister were to die before the boy Donald was twenty-one, and I suggested that the trust should terminate and the boy should inherit the estate absolutely when he reached his majority. He agreed to this, and I made another note upon my pad.

'Supposing then,' I said, 'that Donald should die before his mother, or if Donald and his mother should die in some way before you. The estate would then pass to the girl, Jean. Again, I take it that the trust would terminate when she reached her majority?'

'Ye mean,' he asked, 'when she became twenty-one?'

I nodded. 'Yes. That is what we decided in the case of her brother.'

He shook his head. 'I think that would be most imprudent, Mr Strachan, if I may say so. No lassie would be fit to administer her own estate when she was twenty-one. A lassie of that age is at the mercy of her sex, Mr Strachan, at the mercy of her sex. I would want the trust to continue for much longer than that. Till she was forty, at the very least.'

From various past experiences I could not help agreeing with him that twenty-one was a bit young for a girl to have absolute control over a large sum of money, but forty seemed to me to be excessively old. I stated my own view that twenty-five would be a reasonable age, and very reluctantly he receded to thirty-five. I could not move him from that position, and as he was obviously tiring and growing irritable I accepted that as the maximum duration of our trust. It meant that in those very unlikely circumstances the trust would continue for twenty-one years from that date, since the girl Jean had been born in 1921 and it was then 1935- That finished our business and I left him and went back to London to draft out the will, which I sent to him for signature. I never saw my client again. It was my fault that I lost touch with him. It had been my habit for a great many years to take my holiday in the spring, when I would go with my wife to Scotland for a fortnight's fishing, usually to Loch Shiel. I thought that this was going on for ever, as one does, and that next year I would call again upon this client on my way down from the north to see if there was any other business I could do for him. But things turn out differently, sometimes. In the winter of 1935 Lucy died. I don't want to dwell on that, but we had been married for twenty-seven years and - well, it was very painful. Both our sons were abroad, Harry in his submarine on the China station and Martin in his oil company at Basra. I hadn't the heart to go back to Loch Shiel, and I have never been to Scotland since. I had a sale and got rid of most of our furniture, and I sold our house on Wimbledon Common; one has to make an effort at a time like that, and a clean break. It's no good going on living in the ashes of a dead happiness.

I took a flat in Buckingham Gate opposite the Palace stables and just across the park from my club in Pall Mall. I furnished it with a few things out of the Wimbledon house and got a woman to come in and cook my breakfast and clean for me in the mornings, and here I set out to re-create my life. I knew the pattern well enough from the experience of others in the club. Breakfast in my flat. Walk through the Park and up the Strand to my office in Chancery Lane. Work all day, with a light lunch at my desk. To the club at six o'clock to read the periodicals, and gossip, and dine, and after dinner a rubber of bridge. That is the routine that I fell into in the spring of 1936, and I am in it still.

All this, as I say, took my mind from Douglas Macfadden; with more than half my mind upon my own affairs I could only manage to attend to those clients who had urgent business with my office. And presently another interest grew upon me. It was quite obvious that war was coming, and some of us in the club who were too old for active military service began to get very interested in Air Raid Precautions. Cutting the long story short, Civil Defence as it came to be called absorbed the whole of my leisure for the next eight years. I became a Warden, and I was on duty in my district of Westminster all through the London blitz and the long, slow years of war that followed it. Practically all my staff went on service, and I had to run the office almost single-handed. In those years I never took a holiday, and I doubt if I slept more than five hours in any night. When finally peace came in 1945 my hair was white and my head shaky, and though I improved a little in the years that followed I had definitely joined the ranks of the old men.

One afternoon in January 1948 I got a telegram from Ayr. It read,

Regret Mr Douglas Macfadden passed away last night please instruct re funeral. Doyle, Balmoral Hotel, Ayr.

I had to search my memory, I am afraid, to recollect through the war years who Mr Douglas Macfadden was, and then I had to turn to the file and the will to refresh my memory with the details of what had happened thirteen years before. It seemed rather odd to me that there was nobody at Ayr who could manage the funeral business. I put in a trunk call to Ayr right away and very soon I was speaking to Mrs Doyle. It was a bad line, but I understood that she knew of no relations; apparently Mr Macfadden had had no visitors for a very long time. Clearly, I should have to go to Ayr myself, or else send somebody. I had no urgent engagements for the next two days and the matter seemed to be a little difficult. I had a talk with Lester Robinson, my partner, who had come back from the war as a brigadier, and cleared my desk, and took the sleeper up to Glasgow after dinner that night. In the morning I went down in a slow train to Ayr.


Excerpted from A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute Copyright © 2010 by Nevil Shute. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Town Like Alice 4.4 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 57 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read constantly, and have never found a book that captured me the way this book did. I can't believe more people haven't read this book...and I spend many conversations convincing people to read it! The first 50 or so pages were hard to get into, but once I did, I could NOT put it down. Fabulous.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well if you need to be encouraged to read something great yet clean and nice this is it!! Jean Paget is the heroine in this book. read and study how she works the way into the confidence of her capturers. Wow.. No wonder she had the confidence to work miracles for the town and for the people there. The romance between Joe and Jean works because they respect each other for what they went through separately and together so they can handle what is coming next. Good read for your book club.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book took me to places I've never been. I experienced feelings I've never felt. During the war, there actually was a forced march, though in Sumatra, not Malaya. I was so into this book that I had to go online to find out even more than the book told me. WOW! What a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I tried this book because I figured it would be a very good read. It was not a good read. It was a great read. The author is a literary genious!!! As I read the last paragraph and concluded the book, I nearly cried. It was a very emotional book. If this book does not affect you, something is wrong. Jean and Joe were so very deserving of the good things that happened in the end. They had waited for so long and finally were reunited. It is a truly lifechanging story and makes you think about how precious life and all that is in it really is.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nevil Shute's novel "A Town Like Alice" concerns the life of a woman, Jean Paget, who survives World War II as a prisoner of the Japanese. The death march that Jean endures changes her life forever as she matures into a woman of leadership and a caretaker of all. Due to this change of lifestyle, Jean becomes selfless as she invests her inheritance and time into returning a favor to the few Malayans that helped her. She also invests the rest of her money and time into building a lonely town into one of a friendly size. Truly, the influence of one person can change lives of many; in "A Town Like Alice" Jean uses her money to make others lives more convenient and meaningful. This truth is portrayed through the setting of the novel.

Through setting, we are able to see peoples' way of life evolve. For example, the Malayan women who help Jean during the hard times of the war travel a dangerous journey to retrieve fresh water from the springs each morning. As a favor, Jean feels adding wells to their every day life, will be a helpful contribution. As a result, she has "Suleiman travel up and down the coast of Malaya building and repairing wells"(110). These wells were integrated into the Malayan setting to emphasize how grateful the Malayan women were and how greatly it eased their lives. As an effect, their chores were accomplished efficiently and without extra hassle. In addition, when Jean moved to Wilstown, she discovers that "there's no shop where you can buy fruits and vegetables and there's no dress shop"(137). Jean changes this aspect of the town by first adding a workshop for women to work in. This increases the population of women living in the small town, and therefore, the population of men also increases. In order to feed this growth development, Jean adds an ice cream parlor, a cinema, a pool, a grocery store, and a dress shop. "This was quite a big place, with counters and dummies clothed in summer frocks"(274). Because of the new recreation and shops for men and women, more couples met and married in Wilstown, creating more residents. The fact of the matter is, all this change was established through Jean's influence on the setting. This aspect helped Shute create convenient, happy lives in a town that was starving for life.

Guest More than 1 year ago
For this months bookclub title I chose A Town Like Alice and I'm thrilled to say everyone from the club really enjoyed it! I found the book full of surprises which held my interest to the very end. Bonza book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have reread this book many times. Facinating story, superb characters. Old fashioned yet timeless.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sometimes I need to cleanse my palate when I've read a glut of current genre fiction. This book accomplishes that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book that was written right after WWII, but reading it now 50 years later it reads like an historical novel. Truly lovely story about some strong characters who endured the atrocities of war with grace and determination.
caactuswren More than 1 year ago
This is Nevil Shute at his very best. The story is told from the experiences of an English Solicitor about the lives of a young woman and an Australian soldier, both prisoners of the Japanese. They meet on the road and become friends. After the war she inherits a decent sum and sets off for Asia to do good works for those who helped the women prisoners then Australia to find the soldier when she learns that he survived the war and punishment for stealing food for the women. It is a good story of the better side of human nature and of those who make it so. Highly recommended reading for all above the age of 14!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My mom's favorite book....and she's a reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though this book was published 60 years ago, it is an absorbing story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the best books I have ever read. It really should have been longer. I was sad that it ended. Its the greatest romance ever. Its sad, happy, exciting, and just all around great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nevil Shute was way ahead of his time. Many of his books feature women of particularly strong character. This book is certainly no exception. Could this be a romance that even a modern career woman can love. This man, and what do we know, says yes. YES!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I didn't expect this book to be a 'couldn't put it down' type, but it was!!! It is a very well written love story - definitely not sappy.
nfmgirl 17 days ago
This book takes place in the years during and after World War II, so it probably spans the '40s and into the '50s. Jean Paget is a young woman who finds herself the recipient of a large trust fund. The story flashes back to a time during WWII, when Jean was essentially a prisoner of war amid a large group of women in Malaysia. They spend months being marched all across the region where no one wants responsibility for them. During their time on foot, Jean meets another prisoner of war by the name of Joe. Joe is cow wrangler from the outback of Australia, and a captured prisoner of war. The Japanese have discovered he is handy, and have put him to use as a mechanic. Joe and Jean become friends, with Joe mistakenly believing that Jean is a married woman separated from her husband by war, like most of the other women in her group. He takes to jokingly calling her "Mrs. Boong" (and I never really got why he did this). NOTE: The aboriginal workers on the ranches in Australia are referred to as "boongs", which is thought of as a derogatory term. Wikitionary says that this is also a Malayan term for "brother". Hence my confusion regarding Joe's humorous use of it as a nickname for Jean. Jean was a young girl in her early 20s during this period (the youngest of the women in the group), but very bright and a skilled office worker (which was why she was in Malaysia). She seems to know a little about a lot of things, she speaks some of the native tongue, and she becomes something of a spokesperson for the female POWs. Years after the war, after Jean has inherited her fortune, she remembers the conversations that she and Joe had about a town called Alice in Australia. She heads to Australia to see this land for herself, and to try to find Joe again. And that is where the second half of the story occurs, as Jean finds Australia holds an adventure for her that she never expected. The story is narrated by Noel Strachan, the attorney who wrote up the trust fund and is the executor of the estate. He and Jean form a relationship that lasts until his death. My final word: I liked this story. I liked the female empowerment storyline. I enjoyed the first half more than the second half (the first half taking place in Malaysia), but there was a certain charm to be found in the second half. I was disturbed at how easily Jean seemed to accept bigotry and cruelty, but perhaps that was a sign of the times and era. Overall this was a nice introduction to Nevil Shute. Using Noel as the narrator was an interesting choice. Some in my book club thought the story would have been better narrated by Jean herself. I do think the story would have been a totally different animal if that choice had been made, but I understand the need to have Noel narrate. Otherwise you would have lost all of his insight concerning his complex relationship with Jean. This was a nice, quick read.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have recommended to others. Didn't know about this author until a friend told me about his books. Loved the book so much, I actually found the DVD online (which follows the storyline pretty much).
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