This was not a new story for me, having previously watched both the Peter Finch/Virginia McKenna and Brian Brown/Helen Morse film versions when I was a young girl. Yet I found it interesting how perceptions change as one gets older. When revisiting a known work either through re-reading or by comparing a book to its film, one tends to notice additional elements that might have been previously missed in the initial reading or viewing.
For example, the more recent Brian Brown film version, retains the narration of Jean Paget’s lawyer, Noel Strachan. As a young girl watching the film, I disregarded the romanticized elements of Noel’s narration, which is readily apparent when reading through Shute’s novel. No matter the harsh conditions Jean faces throughout her story, she still makes a striking presence through her quiet strength and beauty. Shute manages Noel’s narration well. Whatever romantic sentiments that Noel hints at over the course of the novel are tastefully done, and never leave the reader feeling burdened with scenes of unnecessary and potentially awkward romantic interactions. Unlike Simenon’s Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, the reader never develops the sense that Noel has an obsession filled with self-loathing and loneliness. Instead, Noel has a quiet wistfulness that does not impede his role as the kind and attentive confidant and friend n his various interactions with Jean.
Joe Harman’s characterization is rather interesting. When comparing Jean to Joe, Jean is arguably the stronger of the two in regards to personal growth and adaptability, even though both are survivors. Though Jean has a kind of internal social awkwardness amongst her peers, Joe’s awkwardness tends to manifest outwardly whenever he is outside of his native outback. Yet as Noel himself notes, as a couple, both will support each other well. Their relationship pairs well with the sense of Willstown’s own continued growth into a town that’s like Alice.
All in all, A Town Like Alice is an excellent tale of war, adventure, romance and growth. The story is supported by its strong, visual narration, which translates well to film.