L to R: the novel; the 1981 TV series; the 1956 movie
Jean Paget is among a group of English ladies on a forced march through Malaysia in WWII. While on the march, she meets Joe Harman, an Australian POW who is driving trucks for the Japanese. He speaks fondly of the town of Alice Springs, which he frequented. Joe helps the ladies, and steals black chickens from the Japanese commander's flock for food and is punished by crucifixion. Jean assumed that he died. After the war, she relocates to England.
Several years later, after she comes into a fortune, Jean returns to Malaysia to build a well and wash house for the village that sheltered her and her companions for three years. There she discovers that Joe didn’t die and sets out to Australia to find him. Joe, in the meantime, has gone to London using earnings from a lottery to find Jean, after he discovers that she was not a married woman. They do find each other, and Jean relocates to Australia to recreate A Town Like Alice in dusty Willstown, the nearest town to Midhurst, where Joe ranches.
Jean is a clerk/typist from England working for a leather goods company in Malaya when the story begins. Jean demonstrates resourcefulness and fortitude when a POW and later in the outback. When building a Town Like Alice in Willstown, she demonstrates a flair for entrenpreneurship. Joe, despite his machismo, encourages Jean in her entrepreneurial ventures.
The story is narrated by Noel Strachan, who is trustee for Jean’s fortune. He is forty years older than Jean and became very fond of her, actually an unrequited love.
I love a great romance, where the man and woman meet, are separated, and reunite despite overwhelming odds. I first loved the Masterpiece Theater TV series with Helen Morse and Bryan Brown. Then I happened upon the 1956 movie with Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch when it was shown on TCM recently. I knew it was time for me to read the book.