|A Town Like Alice was both an international publishing and film hit, no doubt helped by the exotic locales and strong female protagonist.|
A Town Like Alice (1950)
by Neil Shute
Seems like the main difference between fiction and literature is that the former has happy endings and the latter has unhappy endings. This wasn't always the case. Much of 18th and 19th century canonical literature has "and they lived happily ever after" type endings. Books ending with weddings, double weddings, a sudden inheritance, etc. It's not until you get into Thomas Hardy that literature begins to get regular unhappy endings.
By the mid-20th century, high literature is associated with either an unhappy ending, no ending at all, or endings that aren't really endings. A Town Like Alice is a rare exception which earns its way into the canon with a realistic treatments of World War II horrors with a story about economic development in the "Wild West" of Australia. Both elements are wrapped in a narrator who embodies a typical English reader of this novel: A wealthy, older, lawyer who is in charge of managing a vexatious trust until she reaches the age of 35. The use of a trust instrument as a narrative framing device evokes 19th century authors like Charles Dickens, and does legions to ground A Town Like Alice in the tradition of English literature while covering vibrant new territory (World War II in South East Asia, the development of Australia after World War II.)
A Town Like Alice is a very English example of the expansion of the canon to include the nations of the English commonwealth: Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa, the Caribbean. "British Literature" which is a term I use to categorize books written by people in places like Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Canada, I suppose, becomes a much larger and certainly a more vibrant territory. Another canonical aspect of A Town Like Alice is the strong female heroine (she is no mere protagonist.) While many novels used women who could be described as "strong and independent" as the main character, none of those women could write a horse 20 miles through the outback or survive life as a prisoner of Japan in Malaya during World War II.