27. The Far Country
by Nevil Shute
Kindle book - 13
Since the Kindle edition of this one has a rather bland cover, I thought I'd show you an earlier one.
Isn't it delightfully retro? And really it is rather descriptive of the book, for there is a romance, and we see the Australian countryside in the background. However, the cover perhaps 'promises' more explicit romance than really occurs in the book.
If you like edge of your seat excitement in a book, Nevil Shute will not be your cup of tea. But if you like a slow, well-told story with lifelike characters in beautifully described locales, then he is your man. I was first introduced to this author via a televised production of A Town Like Alice. This was an excellent show, and the book is even better. The author excels in his details, and in kindness. Shute's characters are for the most part truly decent, good people. So utterly refreshing, and sadly, very uncommon. There are so many books full of unsavory, cruel, spiteful characters that give the reader a pretty poor picture of mankind. Of course these sorts of people exist, but so do the really nice, generous folks.
This book takes place in the years after the Second World War in both England and Australia. The contrast between the two is stark. While England is suffering food shortages, and the inevitable rebuilding after the war, Australia is a land of opportunity. Even the weather is completely different. The English winter is cold and dark and dreary while Australia is in the midst of a bright and sunny summertime. Sheep farmer Jack Dorman has just come into a lot of money from the year's sale of wool. After many years of struggle, his place is paid for and he and his wife can afford a few of the extras. Jack and Jane were married over thirty years ago - a marriage strongly disapproved of by Jane's English parents. She ran off with Jack, and has been estranged from her family ever since, except for Jane's Aunt Ethel who 'alone had stood up for her and told her family that she was making a wise choice.' Because of this support, Jane and Ethel have stayed in touch all these years. As the book begins a long rambling letter has arrived from Ethel which troubles Jane. The handwriting isn't good, and she writes of the deprivations - lack of coal and food, and the prohibitive cost of a wool sweater. Jane was:
vaguely unhappy and uneasy; there was a menace in all the news from England now, both in the letters from her old aunt and in the newspapers. The most extraordinary things seemed to be going on there ... In all her life, and it had been a hard life at times, she had never been short of all the meat that she could eat, or practically any other sort of food or fruit that she desired.Jane can't understand it because she thought her aunt was quite well-off. When the scene goes to England, we see that poor Ethel has no money. Her husband's pension died with him, and the money that was supposed to go to the wives of Englishmen in India is gone. She has begun selling things, and keeps her poverty and illness a secret from her granddaughter, Jennifer. When the girl visits, Ethel offers her the food Jane has sent from Australia, leaving none for herself after the girl has gone. And then the most startling thing happens. Ethel dies of starvation. Some money that Jane had sent to Ethel is inherited by the girl, and after much soul-searching and the blessing of her parents, she departs on a trip to Australia.
Once she arrives, the reader learns a great deal about post-War life there. Many 'new Australians' have arrived in the country. We meet a few of them, and get to know their back stories, and their present way of life in this land of plenty. A friendship begins between Carl, a doctor in his former country who is now a logger, and Jennifer.
The Evening Standard wrote of this book when it first came out:
What lifts this into the Book-of-the-Month class is Nevil Shute's gift for investing an everyday story with a warm appealing humanity. He is a romantic who finds his themes in down-to-earth reality.These few words describe perfectly this book, and many of the others I've read. Along with A Town Like Alice, I have read Trustee From the Toolroom (probably four times!), Pastoral, Ordeal, and Beyond the Black Stump. One I haven't read, and really have no interest in, is On The Beach.
From a Nevil Shute newsletter from a few years back:
Why do we all continue to read Nevil Shute and most of us over and over again? A driving force is a shared belief in the moral principles that shine through the pages of his books. A shared belief in the decency and goodness of people generally. A dedication to the value of work as shown through his pages. But most of all, the love of his characters.You may learn more about the author and his work here. If you don't 'know' him, I would recommend you give him a try. As I said, you're not going to find the sorts of themes that are in many more modern books. But you will find characters who are real, with flaws naturally, but also with traits which are to be revered: determination, inner strength, hope, faith. These characters aren't much for whining and complaining. They get on with the lives they have chosen, and are kind and respectful of their fellow human beings. I'm a big fan of this writer.