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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shute tackles economic depression, April 4, 2000
This review is from: Ruined City (Hardcover)
Synopsis: Henry Warren, wealthy London merchant banker, finds himself incognito in the hospital of a depressed northern English town. During his convalescence, he is confronted with the unhappy state of the town since the local shipyard, its sole industry, closed down five years before. Returning to London, he decides to start up the shipyard again in order to revitalize the town; but the problem is finding the first customer. He is forced to resort to some rather shady deals which could land him in prison if discovered.
I am of two minds about this novel. On the one hand, it's classic Shute -- the quiet, competent hero who succeeds through conviction and kindness to others, with the mandatory love story and Shute's characteristic heartwarming plot, enlivened by the ancient "king masquerading as beggar" device.
On the other hand, the central plot is a case of the end justifying the means, which I find rather disturbing; and the novel seems to glorify socialism (not without a dig or two at communism) -- though of course this was written in 1938, when socialism seemed a more viable solution. The novel grapples with one of the fundamental economic problems facing our society -- what to do with people whose skills are superseded by changing circumstances -- and though the answer Shute propounds does not seem workable to me, at least he makes you think about the issue.
On the whole, this is definitely worth reading, especially if your only experience of Shute is "On the Beach". But you may want to try another of his novels first -- "A Town like Alice", "No Highway", "Trustee from the Toolroom", or "The Chequer Board".
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 19, 2008 10:20:22 PM PST
Nevil Shute was opposed to socialism, and generally felt that government handouts were bad for people. I have read this book many times over, and always understood it to be one in which he argues that a privately run company is the best approach to solving the economic problems of society. I don't really believe that this is true in all cases, but Nevil Shute merely presents a possible model in which it could have worked. His opposition to nationalized enterprises is further presented in Slide Rule wherein is to found a case study of the disastrous results of a government supported design for a rigid airship (the R101, I believe) compared to the successful private company's design (the R100, in which Shute was himself involved.) The Wikipedia article has more on his faith in private enterprise, although he, being a far better storyteller, never was so strident about all this as Ayn Rand. His beliefs, and several of them were quite uncharacteristic of that age, are touched on lightly in his novels, with not a hint of lecturing. This is part of his enduring charm.
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