Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Nevil Shute - Story Teller

Nevil Shute - 17 Jan 1899/ 12 Jan 1960
This past weekend I finished Nevil Shute's So Disdained, one of the first books he had published; that being in 1928. It reminded me once again what a great story - teller Shute was. When I first started this Blog back in Sept 2010 (hmmm, I guess I've been at this for awhile) one of the first series of posts that I wrote dealt with the subject of my All-Time favourite stories. I updated this list in December 2013 (click on this link to see my first list and updated list.)

Number 2 All-Time favourite
The reason I mention the list is that Shute's 1957 novel, On the Beach, was my Number 2 book for both lists. This was his 3rd last book and is probably his most famous, also being made into a movie (1959), starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire. I've read this book 3 or 4 times at least and seen the movie at least as many times and they never cease to amaze me and to strike a chord in my soul. The book was written during the nuclear missile crisis of the '50s, a time when the world held its breath to see if the superpowers would launch the nuclear arsenals, and dared to portray the devastating results of such a disaster, the basic premise being that we readers were seeing the world end. Even in such a dire, depressing scenario, Shute was able to find and portray human decency, courageousness in this situation and to make common, sensible people deal with this crisis in an honourable manner. That was Shute's speciality in my mind, his ability to write about ordinary decent people and to show how they dealt with dangerous, often horrendous situations, not with histrionics and guns blazing but still managing to perform heroic acts, without considering them heroic.

This was what I had to say after the last time I read the book, Jan 2011, "2. On the Beach by Nevil Shute (published in 1957). I have read this book 3 or 4 times and never tire of it. It is probably the best 'end-of-the-world' stories I've ever read and that is a genre that I enjoy very much. It's such a classic and as I mentioned with my other Nevil Shute story, he is one of the best story - tellers ever. No matter what the situation, he presents people gently, demonstrating them to be loving, heroic and thoughtful. He writes such wonderful stories and having most recently read another of his stories, The Far Country, which was one of my Top Tens for 2013, I look forward to reading even more. This is my Goodread's reviews of the book, pretty basic for such an excellent book, "One of my top ten favourite books. I've read it so many times and also seen the movie with Gregory Peck a few times. So low key, yet it's the end of the world. US submarine in Australia, trying to see if there is any life in the Northern hemisphere. Life in Australia as the end draws near. US submarine makes final voyage to US. Truly fantastic story.  (added after most recent read) Having read this again, it's still a great story, what a powerful lesson to teach mankind. So depressing, ultimately, but told with class."

Number 10 on my All-Time List
In my 2013, I added Pied Piper to my All-Time favourites. Pied Piper was written in 1942, during what is referred to as Shute's 'War' category of books, according to Wikipedia. This is another of those books I refer to when I talk about ordinary people, in this case, a retired English gentleman, Mr Howard, who at loose ends, decides to take a journey to Switzerland to enjoy a fishing expedition, as he had in the past. Unfortunately for Mr. Howard, his journey takes place just at the start of WWII and as he heads back to England, he finds himself taking a number of children with him, handed to him along the way as their families try to get them out of France before the invading Nazis arrive. Mr Howard is an unassuming gentlemen, in the truest sense of the word, and he assumes the responsibility without questioning it and, while he wouldn't think so, performs acts of heroism to try and get these children to safety. Once again, this is a book I've read many times and the actions of Mr Howard still amaze me and I find myself wondering again and again what I would have done in such a situation. Would I have accepted this responsibility so easily and willingly knowing what risks it might entail to my well-being? What Nevil Shute has done again in this story is present these normal, well-balance individuals, not superheroes in the current sense of the word, but just normal people who have no issue with risking their lives and without blasting their way through enormous odds, still manage great acts of heroism.

These two books remain all-time favourites. Recently, because of my enjoyment of rereading these stories, I've finally begun to explore Shute's other writings. I honestly don't know why I didn't do this before, maybe they were so good that I was afraid that I might discover that his other stories didn't live up to them. Well, guess what! I was wrong if that was my thinking.

Another Classic
I have seen this book many times but always thought it would be basically a romance story. Well, in fact, there is a love story entwined in the pages but it's so much more than that. Once again, it's a story of heroism. The Far Country was published in 1952 and falls into Shute's Post-War grouping of stories. Set just after WWII, when England was still trying to recover from the effects of the devastating bombing that it had endured during the war, the story focuses on Helen, who lives in England, trying to survive and also to help her aunt survive the conditions that England finds it self enduring. A bone is tossed her way, an opportunity to visit her aunt in Australia. So begins a great adventure, in which she finds herself visiting, trying to survive in this strange land and also finding love. The story, like all of Shute's works (or at least those I've read so far), is told gently and lovingly. Events do happen, events that can be considered momentous, both to Helen and to her acquaintances, but they are dealt with calmly, with honour and with perseverance. Like Pied Piper and On the Beach, the story struck a chord with me, these are people I wish I knew and people I wish I could emulate.
This was the review I wrote for The Far Country - "In its way, it's a relatively simple story, but I love Shute's style. He tells a story gently, lovingly and at the same time, matter-of-factly (Is that a proper word? :0)). At its core it's a love story, but it represents its time as well. Set after WWII, England is struggling to feed its people, life is hard; whereas in counterpoint, in Australia, the frontier so to speak, life is pretty good, wool prices are high, money is good, there is work available. Helen goes to Australia at the request of her auntie, who thinks Australia might represent England more from her time in the early 1900s. Helen visits with an Aunt and her family, meets Carl, a Czech doctor, who works in the forest as a lumberman (as a Displaced Person from the war) he must work where the Australians let him for 2 years as a sort of payment for being allowed to live in Australia. He can then work towards getting his Doctor's certificate. The two meet under very interesting circumstances, a friendship/ relationship develops. This is the simple story, but there is so much more. Shute doesn't get involved in the politics of the time, other than in the background as it affects peoples' lives, but he does present an excellent picture of the time, contrasting life in England and Australia very nicely and very simply. It's a lovely story, not one I would have picked earlier in my life I don't think, but the more I read Nevil Shute's stories (two of my all-time favourites are his, On the Beach and Pied Piper) the more I enjoy his writing and the more of his books I want to read. Highly recommended."

I have read other Shute books since, including An Old Captivity (1940) probably my least favourite so far and So Disdained (1928), which I mentioned in my initial comments. These were my thoughts on So Disdained, "This is one of Nevil Shute's earlier works, written in 1928, and even with his early writings, you can see his unique story - telling style. The story is set during this time frame, between the wars and there were many interesting bits of history (assuming he was using a true perspective) that I really wasn't all the knowledgeable about. For one is the tension between England and Soviet Russia; the story involves Russian spying on English military facilities. As well, at one point, the main character, Peter Moran, must enlist the assistance of Italians to help a friend from the Communists and he asks for the help of the Fascists; interesting that they might be considered an ally, considering the events of WWII. The story is typical Nevil Shute, telling the story of a man, relatively mild and even-keeled, who is put in a situation that forces him to make decisions that become heroic, even though he doesn't feel them to be heroic. I love the way Shute lays out his stories, introduces his characters, introduces concepts of patriotism or heroism without preaching but at the same time making you think about what they are and what they mean. He is a story - teller, one of the best and it was enjoyable to read one of his early ones and see how his style developed as he came to write my favourites of his later works." Once again, we find normal people thrust into situations that require decisions, heroic ones, that they make easily and without question. I think that's what I like most, the people don't let any personal issues stop them from making decisions that will help people in need, in fact, their personal issues are not really highlighted or made much of. They are normal, decent, relatively happy people, which is a change from so many mystery and adventure stories that are so popular these days; the anti-hero with a past, who blasts his way through tough situations. I'm not saying that I don't enjoy reading those stories just as well, but they don't strike a chord with me as much as the stories I mentioned above.

Donna Leon's - Inspector Brunetti
To wind this up, I think that one of the reasons I enjoy series such as Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti, or Martin Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police, and more recently, Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache, is that like those characters who people Nevil Shute's excellent stories, these series are also about people, in this case, police detectives, who are decent people, who have loving families or friends. They find themselves trying to solve sometimes disturbing crimes, but what is more important in the stories, is the inspectors themselves, their friends and family, their community, even the food and music they love. The stories are more personal and you find yourself wanting to visit with these people, who are heroic, but quietly so. You want to meet their families, have dinner with them, enjoy the sites that make their homes so important to them, so important that they want to protect these communities.

Anyway, I've begun to ramble somewhat, but my point is that Nevil Shute and the others mentioned should be explored; they are true story-tellers and, if you try them, you'll enjoy being pulled into their communities.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Comox Valley Biannual Rotary Club Booksale - Purchases

This past week was the biannual book sale hosted by the local Rotary Club. It ran from 6 - 9 May and I'm sure, as always, was well-attended. I went on the first day, right after work, and found 20 books, at an excellent cost of $5 for each group of 3 books. I went back Saturday morning for the last day. On the last day, you can get a bag of books for $7 and I managed to find another 14 books. I've updated all my various book lists now and found places for all the new books. I even vetted my existing books and will be bringing a few to my local used book store as trade ins. So all in all a very successful visit. If you're interested, I'll go through all the books I managed to find, a nice mix, even with my leaning towards mysteries these days. I won't write down the synopsis for each book as I usually do because it'll be a fairly big list, but I hope you find some that might peak your interest. So here we go, starting with mysteries. (I did tend to stick to series I've already started, but there are books by a couple of new authors I've been looking out for)


1. Fred Vargas - Seeking Whom He May Devour (Commissaire Adamsberg #2)

2. Tom Robb Smith - The Secret Speech (Leo Demidov #2)
3. P.D. James - A Mind to Murder (Adam Dalgleish #2)
4. Georgette Heyer - Duplicate Death (Inspector Hemingway #3)
5. Georgette Heyer - They Found Him Dead (Inspector Hannasyde #3)
6. J.T. Ellison - When Shadows Fall (Samantha Owens #3)
7. John Burdette - Bangkok Tattoo (Sonchai Jitplecheep #2)
8 - 10. M.C. Beaton - The Fairies of Fryfam (#10), The Perfect Paragon (#16), The Deadly Dance (#15) (all from the Agatha Raisin mystery series)
11. David Baldacci - King and Maxwell (#6 of the King and Maxwell series)
12. Dorothy L. Sayers - Five Red Herrings (Lord Peter Wimsey)
13. Val McDermid - Beneath the Bleeding (Tony Hill #5)
14. Meg Gardiner - The Liar's Lullaby (Jo Beckett #3)

1. Alan Furst - Kingdom of Shadows (Night Soldiers #6)
2. David Downing - Silesian Station (John Russell #2)
3. John le Carré - A Murder of Quality (George Smiley) (1962)

1. Graham Greene - Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party (1980), Ministry of Fear (1943) and Travels with my Aunt (1969)
2. P.G. Wodehouse - Joy in the Morning (Jeeves and Wooster) (1949)
3. Nevil Shute - Trustee from the Toolroom (1960)
4. Evelyn Waugh - Scoop (1938)
5. Daphne du Maurier - The Blue Lenses and other Stories (1959)
6. E.M. Forster - A Passage to India (1924)

1. W.P. Kinsella - The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1986)

1. George MacDonald Fraser (4 Flashman adventures) - Flashman at the Charge (#4, 1973),  Flashman for Freedom (#3, 1971), Flashman's Lady (#6, 1977), and Flashman & the Great Game (#5, 1975)

1. J.G. Ballard - Running Wild (1988)
2. William Gibson - Virtual Light (Bridge #1, 1993)


1. George Eliot - Silas Marner (1861)

2. Anne Bronte - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)

So there you go. See anything that interests you?
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