A Town Like Alice, more than any other work, reveals Shute’s feelings about Australia. Shortly after his first visit, Shute decided to move there. He bought a little farm in Victoria, and over time decided to make it his permanent home. He came to love and respect the hard-working people he met there, and he was fascinated by the distances people had to travel to get ordinary things like groceries, clothing, or medical care.
The “Alice” of the title is Alice Springs, a town right in the center of the continent, halfway between Darwin and Adelaide. Originally founded as a service center for the ranchers in the area, Alice Springs had grown to a delightful small city in the years after World War II.
The novel opens as the narrator, lawyer Noel Strachan, describes the history and establishment of a trust, as well as his dealings with the legatee, twenty-six year old Jean Paget. To him, she seems a pleasant enough woman, but she has an enduring sadness about her. Although she smiles, she doubts that she will ever marry or have a family. Over the course of the next few meetings, he learns her history. The child of English settlers in Malaya, Jean had worked as a typist. When Malaya fell to the Japanese army during World War II, Jean found herself among a group of thirty women and children forced by the invaders to march throughout Malaya because the Japanese lacked a female war camp on the island.
As Jean tells him her...
(The entire section is 535 words.)