By Bill McCandless
The story is set in Northern Tasmania, a sparsely populated island South of Australia, in the 1950's. Here a retired Airlines Captain named John Pascoe operates a small aero club and crop-dusting company. We find that he has retired after 45 years as a military flyer, a flight instructor, and a commercial pilot for Australian-Continental Airlines. In a rescue attempt at a remote mountain location, he has crashed and suffered a fractured skull. Another pilot, also a Captain for Aus-Con Airlines, named Ronnie Clark, has volunteered to attempt rescue. He has known the injured flyer casually since Pascoe taught him to fly over thirty years ago.
The novels' somewhat misleading name was taken from a Poem by Rupert Brooke which describes the dreams of children as storing all the sweet sounds and sights and smells which make their waking lives colorful and active. By inference Brooke reminds us that this treasure trove of color and beauty is available to us in old age.
This is, like An Old Captivity and In The Wet, a dream-tale which Mr. Shute uses as a literary device to unfold the plot and develop the characters. In Pascoe's bedroom, surrounded by pictures recalling the past; after one failed attempt to deliver a doctor to the crash site; the exhausted Ronnie Clark takes a nebuhtal and sleeps. His dream relates Pascoe's two failed marriages, romances which resulted in the birth of two daughters. The first daughter was alienated by a vindictive mother and the second reported dead by a protective Grandmother. Apart from this novel, Mr. Shute only discusses adultery in On The Beach, and has his character commit suicide in Requiem for a Wren; here he uses both of these themes with a touch of incest thrown in. The complex plot, employing numerous flashbacks, has a mystical quality that suggests the influence of a cinematic screenplay with its ability to move through place and time frames using visual images. Only the writer's skill at the peak of a long career, and devoted readers who hang on every word, makes the novel form moderately successful.
What develops is a sense of personal loss when Pascoe dies before the 2nd rescue attempt can be completed, and an insight into how two daughters can approach the event from two entirely different viewpoints. The story has adventure, romance, and mystery; but the central character never speaks a word in real life. Descriptions of early fighter airplanes in 1918 and the techniques of dog-fighting and other risky flying activity, is well done and helps to build reader interest for the twists and turns of the plot. Mr. Shute may have written it for easy transcription to a screenplay, but to my knowledge, no filmaker has ever tried.