I loved this book the first two times I read it, but reading it now as we start to emerge from the pandemic, was even more interesting.
Peter and Joan Corbett and their three kids (6, 3, and 1, if I remember correctly) live in Southampton in 1939 when the UK goes to war with an unnamed country that starts an intense bombing campaign. Written in 1938 and published in early 1939, it predicts the German bombings, but Shute also supposes the spread of communicable diseases because of damaged water and sewer infrastructure.
In order to stay out of quarantine, the family of five decides to rough it out on their small sailboat.
If you like reading about people putting things right, this book (and pretty much any Shute novel) is for you. And by putting things right, I don’t mean in the moral sense–although his characters are usually flawlessly moral–I mean in everyday, mundane terms. (Securing Peter’s bombed out office, making shelter from the bombing, helping neighbors, provisioning and reprovisioning their boat, rescuing an RAF pilot, etc.)
Shute’s novels can come across a little corny and old fashioned, but that is also what makes them fabulous. In this case, their constant quest for milk for the baby becomes kind of comical, mainly through repetition, but also because Shute seems to think that an infant can subsist only on cow’s milk. But rather than detract, that detail only reinforces the old fashioned, romanticized view of the past that I find totally engaging. Especially in these times.
(The novel is Ordeal in the US and What Happened to the Corbetts in the UK.)