Nevil Shute is a classical author for any time period. He was born in 1900 and based his writing on his life occurrences. Early on, Shute was earning his living as an aeronautical engineer, doing stress calculations. His job became an incentive, with his writing becoming second priority, and suffering because of it. There is a gap in his publications spanning the Depression years of 1932-1937, during which time he founded Airspeed in the airship industry, which took up a majority of his time. Once Airspeed ceased to occupy all of his energies, Shute once again turned to writing. In 1938 when he published Kindling, Shute deviated his writing style from that of his earlier works. He escaped the standard subjects of drama; using his experiences raising capital for Airspeed through stocks and bonds, and experimenting with his own cures for England’s economic problems. Up to this point, he had not produced any memorable works, but he was learning to use his own experiences for background and his character development skills were blossoming. In the 1940's he began writing his "war novels", all penned under British censorship, with an undeniable patriotism. He continued using the war as subject matter well into the 1950's, when he abandoned it altogether. His next works, dubbed the "anti-war set" by Richard La Ven a literary critic, imparts the fact that Shute had the opportunity to travel to India, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, and Australia. His world augmented and here his works took on a multitudinous luster more often associated with Shute.
The divergent novels Shute has written makes placing him in a time period arduous. A Town Like Alice appears to be a war novel on the surface, being published in 1950, but it was written when he was presumably doing some traveling in southeast Asia and Australia. The level and depth of his writing in Alice shows that he was indeed learning to draw upon his own experiences to create critically acclaimed works.
Alice would most appropriately conform to the genre of the sociological novel. The book portrays a community and how it deals with the changes due to world conflicts. In the post World War II aftermath, Jean Paget was quite anxious to escape from Malasia back to England, never thinking she would ever again see this place that held the multitude of horrible memories she now possessed. When she inherited a legacy, that all transfigured and she decided to thank the small village that took her and the other women in by digging them a well in the village's center. Little did she know at the time, but she would never return back to her home in England. Soon the little village had a well in the center instead of three miles away, and many other developments, compliments of Jean. It was here that she learned of Joe Harmon still alive and working in the outback. After some confusion, she joins him in Willstown where he works on a station in the outback. Jean, after having experienced the luxuries of Alice Springs on her way to Willstown, decides to start a shoe factory like the one she worked for in England. One thing leads to another, and suddenly there is an ice cream parlor, a hairdresser, a cinema, a pool house, a rec center, and a swimming pool. In the meantime, she in engaged to Joe, but they are delaying marriage until Jean's business in town is stable and capable of running in her absence. The effect of Jean's keen business sense and determination brought about a new resolve for Willstown as it prospered, bringing new people. Among those included ranch hands and women, who in the past, left Willstown for towns with more to offer.
Nevil Shute offered innovation in may of his novels. With each new work, he developed his skills to fabricate a novel more improved than the one preceding it. In A Town Like Alice, Shute allows a woman to be the eagle-eye entrepreneur to renovate a small one-horse town in the outback. In a time period when women were viewed as homemakers and mothers, Shute uses the strong will of a determined and competent female to develop a town that may have otherwise eventually dried up like the swollen creek of the wet season in an Australian dry spell.
I liked this book, from the beginning of the Japanese Death March to Noel Strachan's tears as his aeroplane circled after taking off to get on course, and [he] saw the new buildings and bright roofs of the Gulf town for the last time (p. 276). Jean Paget is an inspiring character to not only women, but to all people. Her courage in the face of the Japanese sergeants, her determined leadership and strength to nurse her ailing troop of women and children back to health, and communicate their intentions to the Japanese guards watching over them, is unmatched compared to any standards.In the words of Joe Harmon, A Town Like Alice is a bonza novel.