Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review

What Happened to the Corbetts

Review by Martin Nicholson - 24 February 2013

Far too often I finish a novel with a sigh of relief that an overlong plot-line has finally ground to a conclusion. Somewhat rarer is the novel where all the loose ends are tied up and where I can read the final page with a sense of satisfaction but also with a definite sense of closure. “What Happened to the Corbetts” by Neville Shute is one of those very rare novels that left me wanting to read more.

There are some marked similarities between this story and "On the Beach" by the same author - most noticeably in that it is a young married couple bearing the heavy responsibility for looking after their young children in the aftermath of a disaster who are the central characters.

Written in 1938, Shute accurately predicts the effects of air-raids on the civilian population. The speed with which normal living breaks down when water and electricity supplies are disrupted is frightening. Peter and Joan Corbett have to make the difficult decision to move away from Southampton after a series of air raids and the second half of the book is primarily concerned with how the family end up sailing to the French port of Brest.

The book ends with Peter Corbett volunteering for war service and the rest of his family having set sail on a Canada-bound liner. The reader never gets to know if Peter survives the war or what happens to Joan and the children. Lesser authors would probably have written at agonising length about their separate lives but Shute, wisely in my opinion, ends his story with these questions unanswered.

Certainly worth 9/10.