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The Jacaranda Tree by HE Bates

Methuen Publishing, 2006 (first published 1949)


I've never read HE Bates, and associating him only with the televised version of The Darling Buds of May seems unfair.

This set piece follows a group of English people escaping the Japanese invasion of Burma during the Second World War. Cut off from air or rail options, the group load up two cars with food, tents and petrol, and head towards the Indian border - along with the rest of the population.

Enjoyment factor

Taking place almost exclusively on the road in the two cars, with plenty of pre-existing tensions between the various characters from the outset and with no certain destination, this story was never going to end well. Bates's character observation is impeccable and I couldn't put the book down.

However, the ending proved to be incredibly frustrating, devoid as it is of any kind of redemption or resolution. I was hoping for a punchy twist, but it's purely nihilistic.

It left me thinking ....

That when you're so invested in a novel's characters, there really should be some kind of redemption, and a glimpse of the future. Otherwise, what's the point?

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