Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute is the most delightful novel I have read in a very long time. Spending time with the book, letting the paragraphs slide by, was pure joy, every minute of it. I just didn’t want it to end.
Shute died in 1960 and the book was published posthumously later that year. I must admit I had never read another Shute book, never heard of the author and I would certainly not have come across this one had it not been for a recommendation by a friend and colleague.
Trustee from the Toolroom is the story of Keith Stewart, a frumpy British engineer and journalist who has carved out a meager business building model engineering projects and writing about them in a niche magazine called the Miniature Mechanic. He loves what he does, and he and his wife live childless and seemingly content. They have just enough to get by and they are happy with their modest lives.
Keith’s wife’s sister Jo is married to a retired British naval officer. The two have one young daughter. They decide to sail in their own boat from England to the Pacific, with the goal of establishing themselves in Vancouver. During the journey, they leave their daughter with the Stewarts. They intend to have her flown over after they arrive in Vancouver some five months later.
A hurricane in the middle of the South Pacific changes everything, and Keith faces the conflicts of deciding to maintain his small and safe existence in an English village, or risk everything to recover the nest egg his in-laws have put aside for their daughter, making him the trustee. In the end, Keith chooses the path of adventure and courage.
This book is a novel without any villain or even any intense conflict. It simply tells the story, in great detail, of how Keith lives and eventually embarks on an exotic trip across half the globe on a very unlikely mission. We think we know the eventual outcome but the suspense comes from wanting to know how he accomplishes it, step by step.
Shute is an excellent story-teller. All the main characters are very likeable and honorable. Everyone seems to do the right thing all the time. It’s almost like a fairy tale, except there is no bad guy. The challenges in the story are simply life’s obstacles and accidental misfortunes.
A story like that just makes you feel good reading it, and everyone should have that experience once in a while.
Rating: **** (out of 4)