Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review

Requiem for a Wren

Published as "The Breaking Wave" in the US

By Nikolay Fedorov

War is a great evil. War not only kills and cripples people, it also destroys their souls. Spiritual wounds can torment people for a long time and, sometimes, forever. The novel of Nevil Shute "Requiem for a Wren" is dedicated to a person, who survived a war, but couldn't come back. "Requiem..." is one of the most tragic Shute's novels. Reflections and torments of unfortunate Janet Prentice are exposed to a reader on the pages of her diary. Sometimes she seems to be on the brink of insanity. The cause of her sufferings and subsequent suicide is very complicated. When she was graduating school the Second World War began, and she like many girls of her generation was drafted on military service. The period, when a man was formed as a personality, was filled for her with heavy "masculine" work, air raids and other war hardships. On the pages of "Requiem..." and other novels on the Second World War Nevil Shute insists that the young people, nourished by the war and survived the war, meet with great troubles in the peace life. These people often want to return to war, to military service, to their habitual life. Janet's situation is weighted by loss of her closest people - her father and her bridegroom, and by the complex of guilt for the death of seven Poles, tried to escape to England on the "Junkers", shot down by Janet. She considers the death of Bill and others as a punishment for her sins. She tries to redeem her fault helping her relatives and relatives of Bill. Like a nun she had neither interests nor private life. She wants to return to the Navy, but it is unconscious desire to begin with beginning - before the time she met Bill and shot down "Junkers". But her hopes have expired and she sees the only decision in the suicide. But her death saved other man - Alan Duncan, brother of Bill. The crippled pilot was seized by a thought - to find Janet and to replace Bill for her. If they had met they might have married and loved each other - Alan would have loved Janet because she was Bill's bride and Janet would have loved Alan because he was Bill's brother. But could it be called real love?! Maybe, Janet understood it and preferred to die. People often are blinded by illusions and don't see real life. Janet's death freed Alan and gave him correct direction in his life.

Characters of Shute often met with such problems. They returned from the war and couldn't find themselves in peace time. Many of them even during the war were afraid to be "civvy". Of course they had accustomed to the war and scared other reality. But any hardships might be repaid by an aim. What was the war for them? They were Englishmen, citizens of the British Empire. Great Britain was amid the winners in the war. But was this victory full for Britain? English army was defeated in the campaign in France in 1940. Although RAF was defending the sky of Britain, and the Royal Navy was securing ocean communications of the empire, England couldn't cope with Nazi Germany without allies. Victory for England was conquered by the blood of Russian soldiers on the Eastern front and by American lend-lease. The Englishmen did understand it. German invasion to England hadn't been real after 1940 and the war for British became a war for exhaustion, a kind of heavy work. After the war England lost the status of superpower, and the British Empire began to collapse. The USSR, of course, had greater losses in the war, but it kept independence and saved its peoples from slavery and physical annihilation. "We need only Victory for all of us by any price" - words from Russian popular war song. All victims of the war were redeemed by the Great Victory. Stalinist regime and all its crimes are sometimes justified because Stalin had been the leader of the USSR during the war. As for characters of Shute the war took their youth and gave nothing in return - neither liberation nor triumph of great empire.

In contrast to Janet Prentice other characters of Shute could cope with "war syndrome", owing to new orients, heavy work for reaching them and, of course, to Love. Janet couldn't deny negative moments of past and died. War is an evil, created by man, and only man can cope with consequences of war.