Monday, 1 June 2015



I read a number of what I think of as yarns during our recent sojourn in Northumberland. I class yarns as easy to read fiction ideally suited to holidays. They are not too long, only have a few characters and are either amusing or just easy to read.

One of the yarns was a book from the shelves of our accommodation, The Far Country by Nevil Shute. A striking aspect of the book is the way early fifties Britain is compared to Australia, much to the advantage of Australia.

In this novel, Shute has some harsh things to say about the new (British) National Health Service, as well as the socialist Labour government, themes he would later develop more fully in In the Wet.

Apart from that the book is a fairly typical Shute yarn, easy to read, plenty of practical details and with a strong dash of sex-free romance.

At one time Shute was an extremely successful writer, I recall reading a number of his books years ago although I was never a great fan. Originally he was an aeronautical engineer and there is something about his practical outlook on life which still appeals. Shuteworld is a place where problems are there to be solved, usually by hard work and a touch of the inventive spirit so important to Shute's ethos.

There is something else in Shuteworld too, something we’ve lost as the real world grows smaller and more regulated. Possibly it is the pioneer’s love of challenges, particularly practical challenges where hand and mind, determination and good intentions change things for the better.

Shuteworld has gone and many modern readers are unlikely to grasp quite what it is that has faded from their grasp. Ironically, although he was wedded to technical progress, it is progress which rolled over Shuteworld, squashing its delight in bright-eyed individualism, burying it forever in a relentless pursuit of corporate profit and political uniformity.


Michael said...

I read 'A Town like Alice' in one day, back when I had mumps! (You don't move an inch when you have mumps aged twenty..;0(

Marvellous story, as because of the complexity, reading it at one sitting (or lying), was probably the best way to read it, because the emotions, the scares, etc all combine and swirl at the same time!

Might get it out of the library again now...

Demetrius said...

Shute was very readable and could certainly tell a tale, however unusual. But despite a liking for his work, there was always the thought that it was never going to be like that. The trouble was working out what is was going to be like.

A K Haart said...

Michael - I may read a few more too, although I'll probably save them for holidays.

Demetrius - yes, disbelief isn't quite suspended.

Anonymous said...

Not read Shute for many years. Brings on a feeling of Dan Dare, the triumph of science, atomic power too cheap to meter and Woomera. All gone now.

A K Haart said...

Roger - I may read more Shute because I think his optimism is still worth revisiting.

Edward Spalton said...

"Trustee from the Toolroom" was a good read too.
I think what puts Shute out of synch with us is his unforced, intinctive belief in
British values - real,ones, not the ersatz, phoney, multiculti variety peddled by Nicky Morgan today
and not the rather forced "effortless superiority" of the G A Henty " dominion over palm and pine"

A K Haart said...

Edward - I agree, he did have an instinctive belief in British values which is probably why he was so popular with those who shared them. "Trustee from the Toolroom" was the first Shute book I read while still at school - always remembered it.