Saturday, October 09, 2010

Round the Bend

No, waiting for engine installation to be complete didn't driven me insane, but it did given me some time to read. I just finished the novel Round the Bend by Nevil Shute. Blog reader Hawke sent it to me some time ago. I'd already read On the Beach by the same author and enjoyed that, and hey, someone wanted to send me a book. Of course I said yes to his offer.

It's out of print, I think. My copy is hardback with the proper old book smell and a map, in the endpapers, of the region between Saudi Arabia and Australia, where most of the action takes place.

I cracked it open and started reading the adventures of the protagonist, who as a teenage boy was so enthralled by a flying circus that he joined them as a labourer, becoming an aircraft mechanic and a pilot and eventually starting his own air transport business in the middle east. Despite the fact that he doesn't have much flying or business experience, nor even a commercial pilot licence, nothing much goes wrong, and he demonstrates a talent for business and people.

Before I got very far on my initial reading I had to go to work, so I left the book at home and didn't pick it up again until my next time off a month or so later. After a few repetitions of this, I wrote Hawke to assure him that I was reading it and I did like it.

Just like this blog, it's told in the first person and I was lulled into enjoying it simply for the similar but from another age and place recitation of the minutia of preparing airplanes for flight and the various logistics of going to new places, finding food and accommodation, and ensuring there will be fuel and maintenance available. The people he meets and employs along the way are interesting, and, despite their diverse religions and races, are treated as individual respect-worthy human beings, both by the narrator and as subjects of the novel. I more than once flipped forward to confirm the 1951 copyright date. Someone who today calls bigoted attitudes 'antiquated' is doing a disservice to the time.

I was probably halfway through the book before I began to suspect that the narrator was not in fact the protagonist, just a witness to the messiah-like life of what had at first appeared to be a minor character. Neither the book nor its humble messiah asks you to believe anything you wouldn't ordinarily, or to stop believing anything you already believe. The story could probably be criticized as simplistic, but the framing excuses that. It's presented as the matter of fact memoir of a pilot--someone who describes Agra by giving just as much weight to the quality of the runway and hangars as he does to the Taj Mahal--and as long as his airplanes are flown and maintained well and responsibly, it doesn't matter what the craftsmen believe. While reading the final pages I had to assure a Boston Pizza waitress that I was fine, really, just reading an emotional book, could you please bring me another napkin?

Nevil Shute was himself an engineer, pilot and entrepreneur, and according to Wikipedia, he considered Round the Bend to be his best novel. I think I'll try to find some of his other aviation novels to read.

Out in the real world, Captain David Cronin died Monday at age 81. He was the pilot-in-command of UA811, a B747 that landed in Honolulu with a gaping hole just behind the cockpit, after a forward cargo door came off.


Wayne Conrad said...

Amazon lists several -- now one less -- affordable used copies.

nec Timide said...

For people who (like me) have started using eBook readers, the Sony book store lists many of his works but not (yet?) Round the Bend. Kobo does, which is where I just bought it. So now it sits on my reader ready for when I finish my current book.

All of these seem to be published in electronic format this year so new real books may follow.

Angus said...

The Kindle version is due Dec. 7, but you'll need to supply your own can of old-book-smell spray.

Anonymous said...

I believe OldBookSmell 1.0 is a new app on the iPad.

Sarah said...

Sounds good, thanks. I'm always on the lookout for a good novel and I'll add this one to my list.

I've never heard of Round the Bend, or, for that matter, most of his work other than On the Beach.

Dave Starr said...

Delighted that you found this book and made it through to the end. It's a shame that US (and what little I know of) Canadian education, if they mention Shute at all only connect him with On the Beach, which was not only depressing, but one of his more poorly crafted works.

A fascinating, strange, opinionated, bigoted, snobbish, complex man, but a fascinating one, none the less.

And the message for ground engineers and pilots hidden behind the religious fictional window dressing is a worthy one. No practitioner of Connie's strange religion ever caused a crash that was humanly preventable ... wise principles to emulate.

A lot more about the man and his books and his engineering accomplishments here ... he has quite a Canadian connection, BTW
Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Tim said...

Enjoy your blog, used to fly part 135 floatplanes.

Enjoyed the posts in Alaska, have flown most of those places and love the "Century" - and have actually hit great weather there a few times where we were (almost) hot having drinks out on the deck.

You might want to google the "Burgomeister" - you can read at least half a dozen of Shute's books online. Don't miss Slide Rule or Trustee to the Toolroom

Critical Alpha said...

Adding to the already growing list...try to find Stephen Morris which was published I believe after Nevil Shute's death and contains two interlinked books - Pilotage and Stephen Morris. I also like The Chequerboard, No Highway and The Rainbow and the Rose. For an Aussie connection try: In the Wet and A Town Like Alice.
As you say, they're simple books but they often tell a lovely story.

zb said...

Someone who today calls bigoted attitudes 'antiquated' is doing a disservice to the time. -- Thanks.

Angus said...

Another Nevil Shute novel in my library is "The Legacy", not an aviation theme but still a wonderful story.

Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Trix:

Whilst exploring Nevil Shute's oeuvre, I urge you not to miss his autobiography, Slide Rule. I blogged a review of it a while back, HERE.

Best regards,


Michael5000 said...

OK, I put a hold on a random Nevil Shute audiobook, "Round the Bend" only being in the paper collection and my paper stack being way too high. We'll see how, um, "Ordeal" goes.

UA811 is a pretty amazing event to read in transcript. He was supposed to retire within a month when that happened, if I remember right. And he brought it down with barely a bump.

Devil in the Drain said...

Another fan comment for Nevil Shute.

_Round the Bend_ is by far my favorite, but I'll add a vote for _The Chequer Board_ and, really, whatever else of his you find.

It's also fun reading about the amazing airship he helped design.

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

Thanks for the suggestion! I read "On the Beach" years ago, and enjoyed it.

I also enjoy reading the blog... I fly here in Canada as well but miss the type of flying that you do. I know you already do, but enjoy it!


PS, for anyone using Wattpad for Blackberry, Round the Bend is available.

Aaron said...

Just finished 'Round the Bend' on the weekend... It grew on me as I read it, but was never dull. By the time I was 2/3 done I was reading every spare minute and hours at night!

Thanks for the recommendation. I haven't enjoyed a book that much in many years.