Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review

Vinland the Good

A review by Sandy Weiss

The narrator of Vinland the Good is a 27 year old school master named Callender. He had taught at an English public school before WWII and had been at war for six years. Upon his return, he was given the task of teaching American history because the rest of the masters thought it was a subject that was easy and unimportant enough for a rusty master to perform. He was glad to teach the subject because he'd had time to read a great deal about it when he was a POW. On his first day, he decided to tell the story of the discovery of America, a likely place to start, much to the dismay of the head master who decided to stay and listen to the class in order to judge Callender's performance.

The unusual subject of the lecture was made even more strange by being delivered in narrative form. The lives of Eric the Red and his son Leif Ericsson, and their contemporaries, make up the action of the narrative. Eric was a hot-tempered man who kept getting into fights, killing people and being forced to leave the countries in which he was living to avoid punishment. He and his clan ended up living in Greenland. His son Leif grew to be a smart and level-headed man who was sent to Norway to secure lumber and iron that would improve the lifestyle of the colony. The King of Norway asked that Leif sail south from Greenland and look for the good land that was reported to be there by other Norse sailors. Leif and a group of his people did sail south and landed in Massachusetts. They found wild grapes in abundance and named the new country Vinland the Good. The head master was so distressed by Callender's performance that he suggested that Callender should accept a job selling electric razors instead of trying to teach.

Vinland the Good, is the only one of Nevil Shute's books that is no longer in print. ( Webmaster's comment: Now obtainable from Paper Tiger) The reason for its demise was probably because people thought it wasn't a very good book. I can see how the public, Shute fans included, would be disappointed with this book at the time it was published. It has a very different style than his other novels, being written as a screenplay. It is also written in "modern form" which means that the 11th century people speak in 20th century English;like the updated screen version of Romeo and Juliet, the style takes a little getting used to. It took me a lot of years to find a copy of this book to read because I'm not a borrower and the book is very scarce. I was not at all disappointed with the book because it revealed another side of my favorite author. All through the reading I could picture Shute having a grand time writing a novel that he thought was funny, telling a historical narrative that was special to him and at the same time making a sarcastic point about the stuffiness of the English school system. Shute tried to put in something for everyone; a little adventure, suspense, humor, love story and political criticism.

The American edition is a beautiful volume. The dust jacket has blue grapes on a purple field and the same pattern is on the boards under the jacket. I don't think that any of his other books have that type of decoration. I purchased my copy from a wonderful bookstore named Between the Covers Rare Books, in Merchantville, N.J. They have other Shute titles for those of you who are looking for a source. I would only recommend the reading of this book to die-hard and open-minded Shute fans that are looking for an unusual reading experience.