Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review

[NOTE: The following excerpt from "The Far Country" was taken from The Paper Tiger Rare Books site.-JRH]

Jack and Jane Dorman are sheep ranchers in Australia. After many long years of hard work and penny-pinching, suddenly the price of wool skyrockets and they discover that they are wealthy for the first time in their adult lives. This excerpt from the Far Country is the only place in a Nevil Shute novel, of which I am aware, where he implicitly expresses his views on "modern art". four-twenty they drew up in front of the Windsor Hotel... and the Dormans went up to their bedroom; a fine, lofty room with plenty of cupboards and a bath. After the constrictions of their rather mediocre station homestead it seemed like a palace to them; the hard years fell behind them, and for the moment they were young again.

"Jack," said Jane, "don't let's see anyone tonight. Let's just have a very, very good dinner and go to a theatre. Any theatre."

"Don't you want to see Angie?"

"Angie can wait till tomorrow," said her mother. "I want to see a theatre. Angie's probably seen them all. Let's go out alone."

"All right," he said. "I'll go down and see what we can get seats for."

She said, "And I want a bottle of champagne with dinner."

" My word," he said. "What'll I order for dinner- mutton?"

"You dare! Oysters and roast duck, or as near as you can get to it."

They went out presently and walked slowly in the heat down the tree-shaded slope of Collins Street, tacking from side to side to look at the shops. Jane said presently, "I know what I want to buy."

"What's that?"

"A picture."

He stared at her. "What sort of picture?"

"An oil painting. A very, very nice oil painting."

"What of?"

"I don't mind. I just want a very nice picture."

"You mean, in a frame, to hang on the wall?"

"That's right. We had lots of them at home, when I was a girl. I didn't think anything of them then, but now I want one of my own."

He thought about it, trying to absorb this new idea, to visualize what it was that she wanted. "I thought you might like a bracelet, or a ring," he said. With so much money in their pockets, after so long, she should have something really good.

She squeezed his arm. "That's sweet of you, but I don't want jewelry. I'd never be anywhere where I could wear it. No, I want a picture."

He tried to measure her desire by yardstick. "Any idea what it'll cost?"

"I don't know till I see it," she said. "It might cost a hundred pounds."

"A hundred pounds!" he said. "My word!"

"Well, what's the Ford going to cost you?"

"Aw, look," he said. "That's different. That's for the station."

"No, it's not," she said. "The Chev'll do the station work for years to come. It's for you to run about in and cut a dash, and it's costing fourteen hundred pounds."

"It's for both of us," he said weakly, " and it comes off the tax."

"Not all of it," she said. "If you're having your Ford Custom I'm going to have my picture."

He realized that she was set on having this picture; it was a strange idea to him, but he acquiesced. "There's a shop down here somewhere," he said. "Maybe there'd be something there you like."

When they came to the shop it was closed, but the windows were full of pictures, religious and secular. He knew better than to offer her a picture of the infant Christ in her present mood, although he rather admired it himself. He said, "That's a nice one, that one of the harbour. The one where it says 'St. Ives."'

It was colourful and blue, with fishing vessels. "It's not bad," she said, "but it's a reproduction. I want a real picture, an original."

He studied the harbour scene. "Where would that be?" he asked. "Is it in England?"

"That's right," she said. "It's a little place in Cornwall."

"Funny the way people want to buy a picture of a place so far away," he said.

"I suppose it's because so many of us come from home."

There was nothing in the shop window that she cared for, nor did it seem to her that there was likely to be what she wanted deeper in the shop. "I'd like to go to picture galleries," she said. "They have a lot of galleries where artists show their pictures and have them for sale. Could we see some of those tomorrow, Jack?"

"Course we can," he said. "I've got to pick up the Custom in the morning, but we'll have all day after that."

She smiled. "No, we won't - you'll be wanting to drive round in the Custom. We'll go to the picture galleries in the morning and pick up the Custom in the afternoon."

They went back to the hotel, and rested for a time in the lounge with glasses of cold beer, and dined, and went out to see Worm's Eye View, and laughed themselves silly. They got up late by their standards next day, and early by those of the hotel, and went down to their breakfast in the dining room. As country folk they were accustomed to a cooked breakfast and the hotel was accustomed to station people; half a pound of steak with two fried eggs on top of it was just far enough removed from normal to provide a pleasant commencement for the day for Jack. Jane ate more modestly - three kidneys on toast and a quarter of a pound of bacon. Fortified for their day's work they set out to look at pictures with a view to buying one.

The first gallery they went to was full of pictures of the central Australian Desert. The artist had modeled his style upon that of a short-sighted and eccentric old gentleman called Cezanne, who had been able to draw once but had got tired of it; this smoothed the path of his disciples a good deal. The Dormans wandered, nonplused, from mountain after mountain picture, glowing in rosy tints, all quite flat upon the canvas, with queer childish brown scrawls in the foreground that might be construed into aboriginals. A few newspaper clippings, pinned to the wall, hailed the artist as one of the outstanding landscape painters of the century.

Jack Dorman, deep in gloom at the impending waste of money, said, "Which do you like best? That's a nice one, over there."

Jane said, "I don't like any of them. I think they're horrible."

"Thank God for that," her husband replied. The middle-aged woman seated at the desk looked at them with stern disapproval.

They went out into the street. "It's this modern stuff," Jane said. "That's not what I want at all."

"What is it you want?" he asked. "What's it got to be like?"

She could not explain to him exactly what she wanted, because she did not know herself. "It's got to be pretty," she said, "and in bright colours, in oils, so that when it's raining or snowing in the winter you can look at it and like it. And it's got to be like something, not like those awful daubs in there."

The next gallery that they went into had thirty-five oil paintings hung around the walls. Each picture depicted a vase of flowers standing on a polished table that reflected the flowers and a curtain draped behind; thirty-five oil paintings all carefully executed, all with the same motif. A few newspaper cuttings pinned up announced the artist as the outstanding flower painter of the century.

Jane whispered, "Do you think she can do anything else?"

"I dunno," her husband said. "Don't look like it. Do you like any of these?"

"Some of them are quite nice," Jane said slowly. "That one over there . . . and that. But they aren't what I want." She paused. "I'd never be able to forget that there were thirty-four others just like it, if I bought one of these."

The last exhibition that they visited that morning was of paintings and sculpture by the same artist; at the door a newspaper cutting informed them that the artist was a genius at the interpretation of Australia. The centre of the floor was occupied by a large block of polished mulga wood with a hole in it, of no recognizable shape or form, poised at eye level on a stand that you might admire it better. Beneath it was the title, Design for Life.

"Like that one to take home?" asked Jack. He glanced at the catalogue. "It's only seventy-five guineas . . ."

The paintings were a little odd, because this artist was a Primitive, unable to paint or to draw, and hailed as a genius by people who ought to have known better. Purple houses that might have been drawn by a five-year-old child straggled drunkenly across vermilion streets that led to nowhere and meant nothing; men with green faces struggled mysteriously and perhaps discreditably with ladies who had square blue breasts.

"That's a nice one . . ." said Jack thoughtfully.

Jane said, "Let's get out of here. People must be mad if they like things like that."

Out in the street he said, "There's another gallery in Bourke Street, up by William Street or somewhere."

Jane said, "I want a cup of tea."

They turned into a cafe; over the tea she said that she was through with picture galleries. "I know what I want," she said, "but it's not here. I want a picture that an ordinary person can enjoy, not someone who's half-mad. I'll find it someday."

He said tentatively, "There might be time to go down and pick up the Ford before dinner.......

"Let's do that," she said. "Take the taste of those foul paintings out of our mouths."

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