Book Review: Round the Bend by Nevil Shute

       

Don’t think for a second that this cover
is indicative of its contents.

If I wasn’t a Nevil Shute fan myself (and if Nan wasn’t a fan), I would assume that Shute fans could be generally lumped together as being Gentleman Survivalists. Not the kind who hoard food in their heavily fortified and armed bomb shelters dug deep in some remote location, but the kind you might want around in a crisis. The kind of person who could navigate you safely to shore, or know which supplies to lay-in, which knot to tie, and which messages needed to be sent.  Indeed most of Shute’s novels revolve around some sort of crisis that allow his heroes and heroines to leap into action with a high degree of calm efficiency.

I find this extremely satisfying. There is something about the way his characters identify a problem, consider possible solutions, and then get on with the business at hand that appeals to my own way of dealing with problems. I don’t claim to be one of these efficient heroes, and I certainly don’t have the knowledge or experience to be a gentleman survivalist, but I can be pretty good in a crisis and I really don’t like to muck about or wait for a committee to figure out the best way to do things.

I am also attracted to people/characters who have practical skills. Which of us white collar types don’t envy the ability and knowledge of a carpenter or a plumber? And raise your hand if you have never been impressed by a stranger offering first aid to another stranger in need? I am impressed when anyone jumps into the fray and makes something right. Once I was at a wedding where the bride’s aunt and about three other church ladies fashioned an entirely new bridesmaid’s dress in about seven hours when the matron of honor showed up the day before the wedding about 3 sizes bigger than the original dress. And the list goes on. Aside from general organizational brilliance and being adept in the kitchen I don’t really have many skills that are useful in a crisis. (And speaking for those of us with organizational brilliance, our skills are often overlooked because everyone seems to think they can organize and prioritize. Unskilled folks don’t jump in and say “I can sew you a dress in seven hours” or “Let me through I don’t know first aid but I am going to try anyway”. But yet, you wouldn’t believe how many clueless people step forward thinking they can organize things.)

Not only does Shute’s background in engineering litter his psyche but I think much of his work has a World War II-induced keep calm and carry on kind of quality.

Round the Bend doesn’t deal with a crisis in the way many of Shute’s novels do, but it definitely has the same kind of can-do kind of quality. The novel focuses on Tom Cutter who moves from England to Bahrain with a beat up old plane to begin a transport company in the Persian Gulf. As he builds up his company he hires an “Asiatic” as his lead ground engineer who inspires his crew to bring God into their daily work. He is a Muslim, but his message is very ecumenical and he becomes a bit of a latter day prophet for flight and ground crews all over the near, middle, and far East. The novel also deals with Tom going native, or round the bend as it were. As with most Shute novels he also throws in a bit of pro-forma romance with a dedicated, highly capable girl. (Which no doubt serves as the inspiration for the wildly misleading cover art of this edition.)

Throughout the book Shute refers to pretty much anyone from that part of the world as “Asiatic” and it usually is used with an article in front of it like “he is an Asiatic” (like saying Barack Obama is “a Black”). The language sounds very wrong to modern ears. In other Shute novels his word choices are even worse. Because of this I have often wondered if Shute was a racist or just using the lame language of his time. I am happy to say that a passage or two in Round the Bend makes me think that Shute was not a racist at all–at least as it pertains to the “Asiatics”. I can’t find the spot in book now, but there was one passage in particular that I found quite progressive and made me think he isn’t a racist after all.

Round the Bend was by no means my favorite Shute novel but still falls into the enjoyable category for me.

Despite Shute’s somewhat hokey prose, lack of character development, and plots that move relentlessly forward with every sentence, I love his books.  For my rundown of some of his other novels check out this link.
  

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Round the Bend by Nevil Shute

  1. Julie @ Read Handed October 19, 2011 / 11:01 am

    I read On the Beach years ago by accident (picked it from the shelf at the library and read it not knowing at all what it was about), so I was interested when I saw this review of another of Shute's books. I haven't read any others or looked into them too much. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. Jeane October 19, 2011 / 1:40 pm

    which Shute is your favorite? i've been thinking of trying some. only read a town like alice

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  3. Ruthiella October 19, 2011 / 4:03 pm

    I only knew Nevil Schulte as a crossword clue/answer: “On the Beach Novelists Schute”. On the racism front, who knows? It is probably casual racism, accepted at the time, now out of favor. I am currently reading an Inspector Morse mystery, published in 1975 and by today’s standards it would be considered both racist and sexist.

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  4. Susan in TX October 20, 2011 / 3:57 pm

    Never read a Shute, but I'm LOL at your comments about those that don't realize they lack organizational brilliance. 🙂 I needed that chuckle today.
    I'll be on the lookout for Shute.

    Like

  5. betsy October 22, 2011 / 5:17 am

    The cover art looks similar to that of John D McDonald's Travis McGee novels. Lots of cleavage.( Of course it is bad luck to be female in a McDonald novel. McGee's women always end up dead.)

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  6. Nan October 22, 2011 / 1:21 pm

    What a great piece, Thomas. I really enjoyed reading this.

    I haven't read Round the Bend yet. I suspect the use of 'Asiatic' is much like the old 'Oriental' used by Americans. I think the Brits refer to people from India and Pakistan as 'Asian' whereas Americans mean Japan, Korea, China when they say Asia. It must be a geographical thing. From my reading of Shute, I don't have the lingering impression that he was racist.
    We have talked about the Nevil Shute newsletter, haven't we??

    http://www.nevilshute.org/newsletter2.php

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  7. Thomas at My Porch October 24, 2011 / 8:58 pm

    Julie: I think if you want to try another you should for Pied Piper or A Town Like Alice. He is a great storyteller.

    Jeane: Really hard to choose a favorite. On the Beach is really good. Pied Piper is a great WWII adventure. The Ordeal (in the UK it is known as What Happened to the Corbetts) is also a favorite. check out the link in this post for synopses of many of them that I have read.

    Ruthiella: You should try one of his books. It will bring your crosswording to life.

    Susan: It is a constant source of frustration for me.

    Betsy: Gotta wonder about an author who kills all his women.

    Nan: If you did mention it before I didn't remember the Shute newsletter. I will have to go check it out.

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  8. agoodstoppingpoint October 29, 2011 / 2:49 pm

    I have this book, but haven't read it and didn't know anything about it except that it was written by Nevil Shute.

    A Town Like Alice had some casual racism in it as well esp. regarding the Aboriginies of Australia. Passages regarding the Malaysian people were more progressive.

    – Christy

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  9. whisperinggums November 2, 2011 / 10:54 am

    I read every Nevil Shute there was in my teens … my friends read Heyer and I read Shute. But, then I re-read On the beach a few years ago and was so disappointed, primarily because of “the hokey prose” as you so beautifully put it. Still, he is a great story teller.

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