Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review

Kindling/Ruined City

By Gregg Lieberman

The story is simple: Henry Warren, a physically run down and depressed financier, falls ill in Sharples, a depressed English shipbuilding town. He decides to devote all his energies toward bringing industry and jobs back to the town; at the same time he becomes romantically involved with a local woman. It's a Nevil Shute novel, so it's easy to guess what happens.

However, there are a few wrinkles that set this splendid early Shute melodrama apart from his other books. For one, the action takes a sharp turn about one-third in, as the middle section of the novel is set in the mythical Eastern European nation of Laevatia. It is there that Warren attempts to broker a complicated - and fiscally unsound - deal that will bring orders for ships to Sharples. This portion of the novel, with its sharply-drawn (albeit stereotypical) portraits of corrupt and greedy government officials and inside look at the unsavory actions necessary to do business in the very Near East, is quite interesting, as well as something of a departure for Shute. Of course, he does manage to add some melodrama in the person of the beautiful Pepita (what a name !), an itinerant consort striving to earn enough money to be reunited with her daughter on Corsica. Once again, it's a Shute novel, so it's easy to guess what happens when she is able to help Warren accomplish his business.

Even more dramatic is the fact that Kindling represents one of the few times when a Shute hero actually suffers serious negative consequences for his actions, although even here Shute manages to make these beneficial to Henry Warren's well-being.

So what makes this one of Shute's best ? The business aspects of the book - for once, international finance as opposed to aviation - are fascinating, and serve almost as a primer for the uninitiated in the mechanics of capital acquisition. The love story is restrained and credible. An interesting theory is developed of how joblessness can ravage the physical health of a community. The description of the people and town of Sharples is affecting. Most of all, the climax of the novel, as the disgraced financier returns to the scene of his crime, is one of Shute's most moving, Quite frankly, the last few pages choke me up more than any of Shute's dramatic codas (with the possible exception of Round the Bend). And for that alone I heartily recommend it.