Shirley Hazzard – The Great Fire (2003)

Although I probably have mentioned it but I am going to attempt to read all the books that are featured on the Backlisted Podcast, the main reason being that I need the impetus to read classics plus I also like reading more obscure works and Backlisted fulfils both needs. This time it is Australian author, Shirley Hazzard, who’ve I’ve always wanted to read.

The Great Fire took the author over 20 years to write and it shows. The book is well crafted. It takes it’s time to get started, the use of language is precise. One can feel the care taken. Plus the plot has a classic feel to it.

Aldred Leith is traveling to post war japan in order to write a book. Once he arrives he finds a tutor and discovers he is shared by siblings Ben and Helen. Both younger than Aldred, and, in the case of Ben, has a life threatening disease.

Aldred falls in love with Helen and despite his travels around Asia and Ben’s illness, he tries his hardest to maintain the relationship but some more obstacles may occur.

I call The Great Fire an A Level novel. It is well plotted, superbly crafted, has memorable characters, all details occur the more you read and can lead to many discussion points: the nature of the relationships , the way that world history and personal history can be entwined. This is a rich, complex novel.

Saying that I had problems connecting to it. I found it too slow at times and I did drift off quite a few times. The problem is with me as a reader as one cannot deny that The Great Fire is an impressive novel. I will definitely read more Hazzard (I have Transit of Venus on my TBR stack) and I hope the reading experience will be better.

2 thoughts on “Shirley Hazzard – The Great Fire (2003)

  1. beckylindroos May 17, 2022 / 2:23 pm

    ” I call The Great Fire an A Level novel.”

    Yes, I agree and so is Transit of Venus but her other works are not so good. Hazzard is a beautiful writer though. And about slowness. It seems that our racing speed of life and craving for page-turners has dulled our enjoyment of the slower moving books. I hear this complaint now and didn’t used to. (“It seemed to slow down in the middle” or something. Would anyone 40 years ago have said that about Little Women?

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