Saturday, August 22, 2015

Neville Shute:Round The Bend

I'm still reading my way through the collection of books that we found in my father's loft when clearing his house. My bedtime reading this week was Round The Bend by Neville Shute.

Round The Bend was written in 1951, shortly after the author emigrated from England to Australia. The themes of the novel include racism and the importance of private enterprise. The background of the narrative is the establishment of an air freight business in the Far East in the years after cessation of WWII hostilities. It is written in the form of a first-person biography by the narrator Tom Cutter, but the central character gradually throughout the course of the narrative becomes Constantine Shaklin, a Russian/Chinese aircraft engineer who unwittingly becomes the centre of a religious cult that is based on the merit of good work, and which transcends existing religions. I found some aspects of the opening chapters quite surprising in so far as terminology used by some of the characters to describe non-Europeans would not be regarded as politically correct in the 21st century.

Certain aspects of the characterisation of Tom Cutter are, in my opinion, unconvincing. He is a working-class character and the voice allocated to him early in the book attempts the reflect this. But as the book progresses the vocabulary that he uses becomes far more extensive and the syntax far more accurate than one might expect from someone with this background  - betraying the Oxford University education of Mr. Shute.

What interested me most was the depiction of air travel across vast distances in  1950's aircraft and the depiction of cultural differences in the Persian Gulf and beyond, where Mr. Cutter's business was operating. Neville Shute Norway (Neville Shute was his pen name) was an aeronautical engineer so the reader interesting in aeronautics will find the details relating to aircraft maintenance and flight accurate and particularly interesting.

Mr. Shute's body of work is extensive. His novel On the Beach was made into a film; and the public library at Alice Springs was named the Neville Shute Memorial Library in honour of his work.

Like his protagonist,  Shaklin, Mr Shute has become something of a cult and has a website dedicated to his work.

Neville Shute Foundation

P.S. 'Round the bend' is an English euphemism for crazy.

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