I have enjoyed each Nevil Shute book I’ve tried. So, why not another? Plus, he’s an Aussie author and this one was really short (my kindle version was 221 pages–barley over the 200 page limit suggested for Novellas in November, so I am counting it). This book was written in 1938 and published in 1939. It is fiction, but foretells what would happen in the Blitz.
“‘Home’s where your people are,’ he muttered to himself. “That’s about it.”
Peter and Joan Corbett are in their early 30s, with three young children. Peter is a lawyer in a partnership with one other lawyer. Both he and Joan were privately educated–he at Repton, she at an unnamed boarding school. The live in a newish home, next door to a contractor. They have a live-in nurse for their children and two maids who live out. Like the parents of young children everywhere, they are a bit distracted and not paying as much heed to the news as they should. Peter isn’t even sure which nation they are now at war with–so like today if happened, I’m sure. When war starts with a bombing raid, the Cobetts must deal with their lack of preparation–and the lack of preparation made by others around them.
With the calls from every corner for men to enlist, Peter decides he must see his family to safety first. They endure a few nights in the slit trench he painfully digs, covered by their car. As they sit in the rain on chairs in the mud, Peter hatches a plan to take his family to their yacht moored not too far from their Southampton home [a lot of boats are called “yachts” in the UK–not just the type Aristotle Onassis had] They will stay on it until things are calmer. Now, this is a fairly ordinary boat with one cabin–the baby’s “bed” hangs, if you can imagine, over the toilet! Imagine living one room, on water, during a war with bombs! In the end the family help in a very small scale Dunkirk-like operation.
Shute uses contrived friendships (oh so convenient to have a builder/contractor next door, a doctor friend in the neighborhood, a friend in the RAF, etc.) to educate Peter and Joan, and hence the readers, on life in wartime. On taking seriously the government’s warnings and preparedness tips. It was a bit heavy handed for today, but it is largely a propaganda piece, albeit one I couldn’t put down.
“…you leave a mark behind you. A sort of impression. I’d like to think so, because I think we must have left a good one. We’re not famous people, and we’ve not done much. Nobody knows anything about us. But we’ve been so happy. We’ve lived quietly and decently, and done our job. We’ve had kids, too–and good ones.”
At the end, Peter and Joan both reflect and plan for the future. “This is the end of our young married life, Peter. We’ll be middle aged [when the war ends].” But it isn’t all doom and gloom ahead. Joan says “I do want a decent radio. The children are getting old enough to listen to good music now–just a little bit, now and again. I’d like to have a piano.” Peter thinks that a piano could be out of reach. Joan returns to the radio: “We could have the radio, couldn’t we? Even if we had to put ion the Never-Never?” [payment plan]. I loved this! A man with his “yacht” thinking a piano out of reach for them! I bet after the war, Joan got the radio and Peter got a new boat.
One interesting thing:
Baby Joan (yes, the same name as her mother) was always referred to as “baby”–not “Baby” as in a cute nickname, but “baby” a noun and nearly always given the pronoun “it” which today would shock people. I know in old movies and books we often her Nanny saying that, but today it sounds really awful. Joan does sometimes say “the baby” as in “It’ll be good when things get settled down and we can get some maids again….I’m sick of washing nappies for the baby.” Nonetheless, the Corbett’s were good, loving, caring parents. Peter even cooks! They do go a bit far “afield” getting milk for “baby” [no spoilers]. And while he hides it very well, “[Peter] very much disliked looking after the children” which I thought was hilariously honest. They also just offer random kitchen workers a few coins to watch their children for an hour knowing nothing about the people! Imagine today?
Once again, Shute leaves me desperate for a sequel. I want to know someone took that boat to Dunkirk? Did Peter live through the war? Does their marriage survive? After the war, does Joan get that “one more boy” she mused she’d like to have had to complete their little family? Is there anything left of their nice house in Southampton? Or of Peter’s law office?
This was my second book by Shute in which the main male character’s name was Peter. I wonder if there is a reason for the repetition?
What Happened to the Corbetts by Nevil Shute (aka The Ordeal ) is $0.99
You can also read this book free on Project Gutenberg’s Canadian site where it is titled The Ordeal
My Reviews of Other Books by Nevil Shute
- The Far Country
I’ve also read A Town Like Alice, which is one of my favorite books of all time, but I read it before blogging was invented. It is currently $1.99 for Kindle and worth much, much more!