The Great Fire (novel)

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The Great Fire
First edition
AuthorShirley Hazzard
PublisherFarrar Straus and Giroux (USA)
Virago Press (UK)
Publication date
Media typePrint (paperback)
Pages278 pp
823/.914 21
LC ClassPR9619.3.H369 G74 2003
Preceded byThe Transit of Venus 

The Great Fire (2003) is a novel by the Australian author Shirley Hazzard. It won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction[1] and a Miles Franklin literary award (2004). The novel was Hazzard's first since The Transit of Venus, published in 1980.


The novel commences in Japan in 1947, and subsequently takes in Hong Kong, England and New Zealand.[2] Written in the third-person narrative, the novel principally follows its protagonist, the decorated British war veteran Aldred Leith, who is travelling through post-war Asia to write a book. At times the narrator follows Peter Exley, an Australian friend of Leith's who is investigating Japanese war crimes, and Helen Driscoll, an Australian teenager with whom Leith falls in love while billeted in Japan.[3]

The New Yorker wrote of the novel:

Hazzard is nothing if not discriminating. Hierarchies of feeling, perception, and taste abound in her writing, and this novel—her first in more than twenty years—takes on the very notion of what it means to be civilized. The fire of the title refers primarily to the atomic bombing of Japan, but also to the possibility of transcendent passion in its aftermath. In 1947, a thirty-two-year-old English war hero visiting Hiroshima during the occupation finds himself billeted in a compound overseen by a boorish Australian brigadier and his scheming wife. He is immediately enchanted, however, by the couple's children—a brilliant, sickly young man and his adoring sister—who prove to be prisoners in a different sort of conflict. In the ensuing love story, Hazzard's moral refinement occasionally veers toward preciosity, but such lapses are counterbalanced by her bracing conviction that we either build or destroy the world we want to live in with our every word and gesture.


Runners up


  1. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 2003". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
    (With acceptance speech by Hazzard, introduction by Antonya Nelson (dead link 2012-03-27), and essays by Julie Barer and Cecily Patterson from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. ^ "Words of love and war". The Economist. 30 October 2003.
  3. ^ Beeson, Patrick (13 March 2014). "'The Great Fire,' a Book by Shirley Hazzard". The Tuscaloosa News.

External links[edit]



Preceded by
Three Junes
Julia Glass
National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by
The News from Paraguay
Lily Tuck
Preceded by
Journey to the Stone Country
Miles Franklin Award recipient
Succeeded by
The White Earth