Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review


A review by George Orwell
Submitted by Stephen Smith

".....It is commonly said that every human being has in him the material for one good book, which is true in the same sense as it is true that every block of stone contains a statue........ There is, however, one experience that happens to nearly all human beings alike, and that is war. The 'intellectual' has a chance of seeing war at close quarters as he will never see, for instance, stockbroking or marine insurance, and good war-books are in consequence fairly common. The present war, owing to its peculiar character, has not yet produced a literature of its own, but Mr Nevil Shute's Landfall is a beginning. It is a straightforward, convincing story, and I shall keep an eye open for Mr Shute's books in future. What makes it interesting is that it brings out the essential peculiarity of war, the mixture of heroism and meanness. The whole story turns upon the jealousy between the Royal Navy and RAF over the control of the Coastal Command. The hero, a young airman, is accused of bombing and sinking a British submarine. He has not in fact done so, but is found guilty by a board of inquiry composed of naval officers who are faintly prejudiced against him. Later in the book he is exonerated by a roundabout but curiously convincing chain of circumstances in which the chief link is a dirty joke about contraceptives.

The way in which the author handles him shows what an advantage it is for a thinking man to live sometimes on equal terms with men who are not 'thinking'. The young airman is completely unintellectual. His hobbies are getting difficult stations on the wireless and fitting together model ships of which he buys the parts ready-made. He is conducting a flirtation with a barmaid, whom he finally marries, and there are whole chapters of the kind of conversation that one hears flung to and fro across saloon bars, full of doubles entendres and "Oo, aren't you awful! " But the author treats none of this ironically. He sees the young airman's point of view, because, presumably, he has at some time shared his experiences. He can stand inside him as well as outside him and realize that he is heroic as well as childish, competent as well as silly. The result is a good, simple story, pleasantly free from cleverness, and at times genuinely moving........."