A Town Like Alice by Neville Chute

A Town Like Alice - A 1950's exciting story, of a woman  who has such success, vision, courage and determination. A classic suitable for any book club.

Set in both Malaysia and then the Australian outback, it's easy to see why A Town Like Alice is so well known and a classic.

It has a compelling story (set after the war in the 1950's) and has all the key elements that make for a great book - sorrow, hope, courage and love.

A classic!

The Plot

The story is a tale about Jean Paget, who finds herself, along with a group of women & children, as prisoners of the Japanese, wandering around Malaysia, on foot, for the duration of the War because there is nowhere for them to go.

After surviving the War, when she comes into money, she returns to Malaysia to provide a well & wash house for the village which befriended them & then travels onto Australia to find Joe Harman who had been so kind to them in Malaysia & who had been crucified by the Japanese.


The major theme is about the courage & bravery of a woman in the face of adversity, both in Malaysia & The Outback.

    But it's also about her great kindness & selflessness ie. the well in Malaysia & the development of Willston.

    And she is resourceful ie. learning to make the shoes in order to set up a factory, in order to keep the girls around instead of moving to Cairns etc.

It is also a classic love story as she treks down Joe Harman all the way in Australia.

The book is a chance for the reader to learn about new places and cultures. When this was written, most would not have a TV at home; little was known about the Outback, or Australia generally. So this story was of great interest.

Book Club Questions?

What makes Jean such a strong character?

Why is her character such a successful heroine in the book?

Discuss the character of Joe Harman. Does he opitimise how most people would imagine men from the outback?

Why do you think the author chose to tell the story through a lawyer and not through Jean?

Discuss the two major settings of the book - Malaysia and Australia. How are they similar and different?

Set in the 1950's do you think this book would have been an inspiration, particularly to women? Why or why not?

Is this still an inspirational book?

At times the book seems quite quaint (traditions of the 1950's are no longer  relevant today) - does the book seem dated or does it belong as a classic?


We loved A Town Like Alice (we do live in Australia though so perhaps this helped!) and gave it a 7/10.

We found Jean to be a wonderful character to discuss. What a strong lady she is. Her youth, her strength &, in Malaysia, she can speak the language; These all help to make her a strong character.

Her success as the heroine is:

A. Because of her great kindness to the guards, ( they frequently return her kindnesses).

B. Because of her huge care of Robin.

C. Because of her respect for & understanding of Malaysian customs.

D. Because of her pride in working in the paddy fields.It's because of her leadership that the remaining women & children emerge from the War physically stronger.

E. Because she has such vision & selflessness in Willstown, building it up into another Alice Springs.

    Of course, she is only able to do this because of inherited money but what good use she makes of it.

After the First W.W & after this one, many women didn't want to go back to the kitchen. This story would have been an inspiration; Jean would have been a great  role model.

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