An Introduction to Nevil Shute – by Ray Cullen

One of my friends and readers from Australia has commented extensively on my review of Trustee from the Toolroom and provided an introduction to some of the other works by Nevil Shute. Since I found the comments too valuable to leave them buried in hidden comments under a post, I have reposted them in their entirety here with his permission. Thanks Ray.

You obviously enjoyed Trustee from the Toolroom, perhaps another of Nevil Shute’s books– No Highway (later filmed as No Highway In the Sky–staring Jimmy Stewart) might also appeal.

Shute, who was himself an aircraft engineer, tells the story of an engineer who becomes aware of “premature” metal fatigue causing catastrophic effects in airplanes.

Much of the story centers around the engineer’s “lone voice” as he attempts to convince others of the inherent dangers. Shute also explores themes of our propensity to judge others, based upon physical appearance—or even the holding of viewpoints which differ from the “mainstream”.

Another Shute novel which might appeal, is On the Beach. This tells the story of several disparate characters who all face their own imminent demise, as radiation from a nuclear exchange in the Northern hemisphere gradually drifts towards the last remaining centers of civilisation—–in Australia. Notwithstanding the bleak theme of the book, Shute still manages to inject some of the laconic humor of Australia into this work, perhaps something the author had enjoyed, after moving here (to Australia) some years prior to writing the book. On the Beach was later filmed in Melbourne (Australia) in 1959—-starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire—–and again in 2000. It addresses such issues as the pointlessness of weapons which are so destructive as to destroy ALL life——and the consequent loss of ALL “political rationalisation” for such monstrous creations, when no one remains to “believe” in same–!!!!

A personal favorite amongst Shute’s work, however, is A Town Like Alice. Again, Shute wrote of tumultuous events involving both his country of birth (England) and his “adopted” Australia—–yet the underlying themes are “universal” and common to people everywhere. Much of the story takes place following the Japanese invasion of Malaya during WW2, and portrays the travails of POW’s in utterly miserable circumstances. Despite such a context, or perhaps BECAUSE of same, Shute reminds us through little incidents of small kindnesses, and common human decency amidst he horrors of war, that life is NOT so starkly “black & white” (or good and “evil” ) —a view to which we are often only too ready to subscribe—!!!! Another central tenet of the book is the strength of the human spirit, and our capacity as human beings, to survive the most horrendous of circumstances—–and despite such horrors, to actually thrive in spite of same–!! Because this is SO important to Shute’s A Town Like Alice, it seems to me, to be “unfortunate” that the FILM (here in Australia, of the same name as the book) was, in the U.S. renamed, The Rape of Malaya. This latter title seems to focus solely on the “HORROR” of the story–and the historical events upon which THIS part of Shute’s story is based. Shute’s story however, finds its REAL “wonder” NOT only in the day-by-day surviving of incredible hardships of warfare, but rather in what happens AFTER the events which the (U.S.) title accurately portrays as, The Rape of Malaya—!! For my “U.S. friends”, the “Alice” of Shute’s original title refers to the Australian outback town of Alice Springs—-locally referred to as “the Alice”—or simply, “Alice”. It is what takes place HERE, in Alice Springs (Australia) AFTER the war–(and which could not have occurred WITHOUT the suffering OF the earlier wartime events) which elevates Shute’s work from simply an interesting grittily heroic story, to a true celebration of all that is great & good about people everywhere-!! What unfolds in A Town (called) “Alice” is a portrayal by an author at the height of his powers, of the WONDER that is life–!! As such, it is a fine example of why we read good books–!!! *** I hope you and your readers may find some of the enjoyment to which I have alluded above, in these and other works by Nevil Shute.

Thanks, Ray Cullen, for providing your insight here.

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