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The Great Fire

by Shirley Hazzard

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard X
The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 288 pages
    Jul 2004, 336 pages

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Power Reviewer
cloggie downunder

better than Transit
The Great Fire is the 5th novel by Australian author, Shirley Hazzard. Set firstly in immediate post-war Japan and Hong Kong, then in England and New Zealand, this is the story of Aldred Leith, author, researching a book on China and Japan and Peter Exley, solicitor and fine art enthusiast, investigating Japanese war crimes. Leith encounters, whilst researching Hiroshima, a brother and sister, Ben and Helen Driscoll. Ben has a condition which is slowly killing him. Helen is on the cusp of adulthood. Essentially a love story, this novel is filled with beautiful, descriptive prose, but builds very slowly and Hazzard seems somewhat detached from her characters. Her love of literature is apparent. I liked the device Hazzard used to indicate thoughts during dialogue. ‘this is what he said’, and what he thought as he was saying it, ‘and what else he said’. It certainly made me pay attention to the quotation marks. As with the Transit of Venus, this novel is beautifully written and lovers of language will enjoy the experience. I found the plot and the characters much better than Transit and overall, certainly a more satisfying novel than The Transit of Venus.

This historical fiction is set in Asia in the years following Hiroshima. The narrator who is studying the effects of world events on Chinese society and most of the other characters in the book are lonely, isolated people (even in crowds). It is not a happy time in history and these are not happy people.
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