Recently (recently enough to have to cut short my journey) I was travelling in Australia. As is my wont I tried to read books that had some relevance to my destination. Two such were by Nevil Shute: A Town Like Alice and the less well known The Far Country. I’m not an expert on the author – just a fan of the books – but I know that these were both written and published around the time the author settled in Australia.
The reasons for his move are clear to anyone reading The Far Country and not hard to seek in A Town Like Alice. Shute was disillusioned with life in England (I don’t know if he means England specifically or the UK in general) after the Second World War; with rationing, with the welfare state, with the low spirits of the time. It seems to be his view (not one with which I agree) that there was a deep depression over the country that would never entirely lift.
For Shute, Australia was the land of possibilities, a place where opportunities abounded and individual freedom survived. The second part of A Town Like Alice demonstrates this reasonably subtly. The novel is a wonderful mixture of realism and daydream, brutality and wish-fulfilment. The Far Country on the other hand doesn’t hold back. England is yesterday’s news and all things good are to be found in Australia. In some wonderful pieces of pathetic fallacy Nevil Shute makes his readers feel the same way, at least for the duration of the novel.
Although I had read these books many times before, they made more of an impact upon me as I read them again in their settings. I think that they are both wonderful pieces of storytelling as well as offering a look into their author’s mind. I couldn’t help wondering as I read and travelled what Nevil Shute would make of both countries today and whether or not he might regret laying bare his preferences.