Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Great Fire, by Shirley Hazzard

The further I distance myself from this novel the more I dislike it.  I read it fairly eagerly, as the story was intriguing and the setting, post WWII Asia, was fascinating.  I initially reviewed it favorably, but whenever I think back, I realize how unrealistic it was.

In summary, a British war hero, Aldred Leith,  is assigned to investigate the aftereffects of Hiroshima, and throughout this story he completes his research, connects with some old friends in Japan, and begins an emotional 'affair' with a teenage girl.  But really, it is more of the story of the world's most boring man.  Most of this book is him recounting his various travels, which would in actuality be dreadful and tedious.  Everyone he meets tends to be a shade or two beneath him somehow, so he's always giving advice or assistance in a not quite selfless way. 

All other characters are minor, and while Hazzard spends very little time physically describing him, she actually "shows" him well by his actions and speech.  But he's too good.  His behavior is exemplary.  His speech refined.  Everything about him reeks perfection.  In other words, he's a bore.  I was rooting for him to do something bad, or ill advised, or even be tardy to an event, just to see him act less elegant or graceful.  Perhaps a spot on his tie?  He's not the kind of guy to pull weeds, but he'd gladly give the gardener a generous sum to do it for him, along with a wrapped book of Chinese verse to take home and treasure.  Obnoxious.

The other thing that annoyed me was that the author foreshadowed many events that fizzled out.  I realize that added an element of suspense, but some of it was almost like it was forgotten or she ran out of time.  The long anticipated confrontation with the parents of his intended never happened, and his deep friendship with Peter (a lifelong friend) fizzled when Peter became sick and attempted suicide (but Aldred did send Peter a get-well telegram).  It concludes as you'd expect (I won't spoil it for you).


  1. Interesting review, I read another review of this one recently and the person had a similar response, so I am a bit wary of this title now. Great blog, by the way I have enjoyed reading your reviews.

  2. Have to agree with you on this title. It became a great slog to the end.