Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Vintage)

THE horrors of life in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War are graphically explored in this novel.

But a parallel story-line also traces Australian army surgeon Dorrigo Evans' love affair with his uncle's wife back in Aussie and his luke-warm relationship with his own wife Ella.

Evans is a complex character, hailed after the war as a hero, but a serial adulterer consumed by self-loathing.

The author's father survived the Burma death railway, and the atrocities imposed by the Japanese on Australian soldiers are described in great detail.

However Flanagan also pokes around inside the mind of Japanese officers and a Korean guard, guilty of brutality.

The novel is a series of flashbacks experienced by Evans but it also examines how the Japanese characters came to terms with life after the end of the war and how for some, justice came calling.

There are also some vividly portrayed Australian 'blokes' who in different ways tried to survive what was for many a deadly existence.

Narrow Road to the Deep North is not an easy read at times, because life in the camps was clearly horrific.

One is left with a tremendous amount of admiration for those who survived but also dreadfully sad about such a savage waste of life.

The Japanese way of life and their attitude in general to prisoners-of-war is gone into in some detail by Flanagan which is to his credit because it would be so, so easy to just paint them as one-dimensional bad guys.