Monday, April 11, 2011

The Far Country by Nevil Shute

27. The Far Country
by Nevil Shute
fiction, 1952
Kindle book - 13
finished, 3/28/11

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.


  1. Try "No Highway" Nan it's a goodie!
    My husband chose on the beach as a fun watch when I was pregnant.... it wasn't a wise choice it's bad enough when hormones are not screaming

  2. I love stories with "real" characters!! Sounds like a great author!

  3. Sounds like one I'd enjoy! I love a couple of his, but haven't tried this one. Like you, I've never wanted to read On the Beach.

  4. Thoroughly enjoy your blog, Nan. I also share your liking of Nevil Shute and am glad he's coming back into fashion again. Do try his 'Pied Piper' - a book about an Englishman stranded in France when the Nazis invade, and who is asked to escort some children home. That's my favourite.

  5. Nevil Shute - now there's a name I hadn't heard in years. I read On the Beach in my misspent youth and never wanted to read him again. This book sounds wonderful though. Apparently I just read the wrong book.

  6. Val, I will! I'm searching around now for a good used copy. Thanks.

    Staci, he is wonderful.

    Rambling Fancy, I'm just not at all interested in Apocalyptic fiction, I think it is called. I think On The Beach is different from any of his other books. The others are straightforward, great stories.

    Michelle, Thank you! I just put PP in my amazon cart.

    Barbara, please read what I wrote above to Rambling Fancy. His other work is nothing like OTB. I'm quite, quite sure you would love any of the titles I listed. If you do try one, please let me know what you think, okay?

  7. Thanks for reminding me, Nan. I have most of Neville Shute's books. Must reread.
    Your photos and postings are a joy whenever I visit. Love the sheep.

  8. Susie, thanks so much!! And by the way, your beautiful patio view picture (the one with the painted white - glass doors) is still inspiring me for our own patio/yard. We are hoping this will be the year. Even though we plan on pavers rather than stones, I want the 'feeling' to be like yours!

  9. This is a wonderful review! I think the characterization sounds right up my alley. I think it's much harder to write a complex character than to write a complex plot.

  10. Aarti, thank you so much! I agree with your thoughts on character writing.

  11. Nan, as you know Shute is one of my favorites. I believe the Pied Piper was made into a film with Monty ? (the man who came to dinner?). You aren't old enough to remember him, but I think you'd enjoy the movie - after you've read the book!

  12. Andi, I so loved Monty Woolley in The Bishop's Wife. Not old enough, eh? :<) I am going to buy The Pied Piper.

  13. I haven't read Nevil Shute for years, but you've reminded me, Nan, how much my mum and I loved his books; my husband too. I'm not keen on apocalyptic fiction either, but the ending of the film of 'On the Beach' is haunting, with the wistful tune of Waltzing Matilda playing. (And with Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire - what's not to like?)

    I love Pied Piper but I remember 'In the Wet' as being a bit odd and difficult. I suspect it's dated badly now, but I must dig these books out again.

  14. I have Pastoral on my shelves and hope to get to it some time this summer. It's been there for a long time! :) This one sounds like a good one, too, as does Pied Piper.

  15. Nicola, I envy you having the old books. I love those covers. I think your comment shows the broad appeal of this writer. I have ordered Pied Piper.

    Les, I'm not sure he's your kind of fellow. Maybe. I do think Rod would like Trustee From the Toolroom. I see your mom called The Far Country one of her 'good reads. not terrific.' I believe I'm closer to thinking terrific.

  16. I liked On the Beach when I read it as a teenager, and should see about a re-read of that one and Pied Piper, and also try some new-to-me Shute books like this one.

  17. Christy, I've just bought a beautiful new copy of Pied Piper, and so look forward to reading it. I really love NS.


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