Thursday, April 22, 2004

Landfall - A novel by Nevil Shute

First time I heard about Nevil Shute was when Richard Bach mentions him as his favorite author. Then last week during our book club meeting, (basically when two of us meet over coffee for a chat about books) CCG said he was reading a Nevil Shute novel and it was amazing. So during my recent visit to the lending library I picked up Landfall .

It is a simple story set in rural England during World War II. Roderick Chambers is a pilot with Coastal Command, whose job is to check the channel for German ships or submarines. He meets a bar maid Mona and is just short of going steady with her. During one of his trips across the channel, he sees a submarine with no clear visible markings. Only the previous day one of the British ships was torpedoed by a German sub, so he sinks the submarine. His joy is short lived as one of the British submarines has gone missing from the same area and the Naval Command accuses him of having sunk it. The Court of Inquiry also puts part of the blame on him and he asks for a transfer to a bomb squadron. Only the girl Mona seems to believe him and in the aftermath of the events he says good bye to her and leaves the place.

There is an experiment being conducted by the Navy on some sort of sonic bombing of ships and the Navy wants a pilot to participate in the experiment. Without knowing that it is the same Naval Captain he is to work with Chambers applies to the post and gets back. In the meanwhile Mona hears bits and pieces about the submarine sinking and pieces together the sequence of events and tries to save his honor. Beyond this I would be giving away the entire story

Shute's writing style is deceptively simple. He lets the character's actions speak for themselves and doesn't try to explain it to the reader. For example whent the Navy Captain comes to know that Chambers is the pilot for the experiment, he asks the Airforce to change him. The Wing Commander says he will have to discuss with the Airforce Commanding Officer before taking a decision. The Captain goes home and when his wife says they have an additional expense that month because of a bike accident of his son, he explodes. He berates the behaviour of his son. His wife asks him to cool down and says "You are always hard on the young". She knows about the Chambers incident, but the author in this place doesn't start explaining her thought process. In the next paragraph the Wing Commander arrives at the Captain's home and says that the Airforce is willing to change the pilot. The Captain thanks them but says he is happy with Chambers as the pilot. Again no explanations given, no detailing of how his behaviour changed when he was silently rebuked by his wife and all. It is left to the reader to understand the intricacies of the characters.

While reading more about Shute I found that he was with Armed forces in the two World Wars and was an accomplished Engineer. Most of his books are out of print and only old paper backs are available. The one I read was published in 1970s or so.

Definitely worth a read

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