A Bonza Town
I first heard of Nevil Shute’s A Town like Alice (1950) when I was a schoolboy, and long before I read it I was fascinated by the title. How, I wondered, could a town possibly be like a person? When I eventually discovered that ‘Alice’ was short for Alice Springs, a remote settlement in the Australian Outback, I was still baffled – for from what I knew of the plot, the novel’s main focus was wartime Malaya. And though I have now read it half a dozen times, and come to love its combination of far-flung romance, desperate endurance and old-fashioned stoicism, there remains a conundrum at the heart of it which continues to tantalize me, like a stubborn morsel of crabmeat wedged in the corner of a claw.