Tag Archives: Nevil Shute

Who can write what?

I’m stepping right back into the cultural appropriation hole here.

I wanted yesterday’s review of Kate Thompson’s book to be about the book. Not whether she should be allowed to write about the Aboriginal people of Australia. Which, of course, she should be.

According to Kate it was hard to find a willing publisher, as they were most likely worried about cultural appropriation. So she published the book herself.

Now, as far as I know, Kate is English, living in Ireland. Over the years she has treated us to some first rate children’s books, mostly set in Ireland, and involving the, ahem, fairies. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. Or at least, not about Kate’s lack of Irish fairy-ness.

Some other favourites of mine among Kate’s books are about children switching to become animals; squirrels, rats. That kind of thing. Call me a cynic, but I doubt she’s spent all that long as a squirrel.

Kate has spent quite a lot of time in Australia in recent years, which presumably explains both why she wanted to write Provenance, and why she did it so competently. It’s not done from the point of view of an Aboriginal person. It’s about a slightly confused, but well-meaning, outsider Englishman. I can’t help but feel that this makes it all right.

Over the Bookwitch years I have read a number of Australian YA and children’s fiction. Great stuff, but primarily the ‘same’ as if those stories had been set somewhere else. By which I mean a teenager is a teenager, and their school issues are just that. Yes, there is an Australian flavour to these books, but not overwhelmingly so. They are as authentic as they need to be.

And let’s not go into the Scottish ferret-cum-human hero Hamish in Ebony McKenna’s books set in a non-existent small European country. I don’t care what Ebony’s experience of ferret-ness is; the books are great fun.

In fact, what Provenance made me think of more than anything was Nevil Shute’s Australian novels. I hasten to add that I have no idea what current pc thoughts are on Mr Shute. I enjoyed his books 40-50 years ago, and that’s good enough for me. He was also English, but I still feel he gave a good account of the country, if not necessarily its native people.

It’s that hot and dusty country I found myself in when reading Provenance. And if you’re going to feel shame over something, this is not it.

The Aboriginal art that plays such an important part of the book made me think back to what Offspring did at school. We have more than one lot of ‘Aboriginal’ art in some folder here. Maybe it was wrong of the art teacher to teach them about this. I don’t think so, but I’m sure some would.

Besides, if we are to become more knowledgeable about the Aboriginal situation, someone has to tell us. Provenance did this pretty well. Yes, seen through the yes of the outsider, but that is also a valid view.

YA? Or actually for old, proper adults?

When I read the two books by Michael Grant recently, Silver Stars and his WBD book Dead of Night, I thought – again – about what makes them YA. Why not just plain adult? After all, they are about adults. More or less. OK, his characters lie a bit to enlist, just like teenagers did in WWI. But they are to all intents adults, and with what happens in the stories, they definitely become adults pretty soon.

There’s a lot of bad stuff happening, and some of them die. The reader is treated to war scenes that can be quite upsetting, especially when you know they are based on reality. It’s not just something the author has made up to spice the book up a little.

There are relationships that are more grown-up than what you find in ‘high school’ stories. Some sex, as would be appropriate for what is being written about.

Take Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, which is also about war and also about characters only just adult enough to do what they do in wartime. They are adult enough to appeal to the real adult reader, but not so old that they don’t suit teenagers.

At that age I used to read Nevil Shute, because there was no Elizabeth Wein or Michael Grant. His books were accessible enough, and often about the same kind of topics, but the characters were – generally – older, and their problems also a bit older.

But I think the main difference is still that there is hope. Yes, people die. It would be unrealistic for them not to in a war. But as Michael said in our first interview in 2010, ‘it’s always good to hope, don’t you think?’

While I’m going on about YA war books, we can mention Lee Weatherly’s Broken Sky dystopia, set in a world based fairly closely on WWII. Her characters are also adults, and behaving as such. And to me the books feel like YA, unless I’m thinking this because I know they are. Not having got to the end of the trilogy yet, I still hold out hope that the end will not be as bleak as an adult-only version could get away with.

And anyway, Debi Gliori told me years ago about signing her Pure Dead books for an adult reader, who refused to believe they were children’s books… After all, if you have them in your book club, that surely proves it?

Put off

The Hardened Librarian (she’s really Den luttrade bibliotekarien) was blogging about what put her off reading when she was at school. It’s a relief to hear that others – even librarians – feel like that. I know I was certainly put off some books, and authors, by well-meaning teachers.

To some extent ‘all’ Swedish literature got to me. But as with so many things when you are growing up, you don’t know that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal. I must have assumed that in becoming an almost adult I simply had to read adult and ‘proper’ literature, and by definition it would be, if not boring, then not as riveting as it ought to.

Why should it be natural to move from exciting books at twelve, to adult boredom at 14? We’ve already established that in my day we had none of the YA. Hence the sudden move to adult classics. I wonder if (Swedish) schools today serve up more teen oriented reading material? Or do teachers pick adult books because they have forgotten already? Or because it’s the only ‘right’ thing to do?

John Steinbeck, Pärlan

I believe THL and I must be about the same age. We both read, and liked, Nevil Shute and John Steinbeck. Note that these two authors lack in Swedish-ness. I have never read many adult Swedish books. But I have friends who did, and do. I even have friends in the UK, leading English-speaking lives, but who wouldn’t dream of reading in English. Me, I always felt I was destined to come here, and to read books in my other language.

A few years ago when I interviewed Tim Bowler, he mentioned his favourite Swedish writers, and I didn’t dare admit that I didn’t agree with him. (Sorry!) Maybe I should get Tim and THL in the same room and they could discuss Pär Lagerkvist. Could be interesting.

The stupid thing is that I was so taken by the idea that I had grown up that I continued reading all this adult, but oh-so-boring stuff. I wonder why? Just think what fun I could have had in better company.

What puts English speaking teenagers off? At least many of the classics – albeit long – are reasonably interesting and readable. Though I’m grateful I saved Austen & Co until my twenties. I suspect I was more receptive to lengthy romances by then.

In the UK it seems to be customary to know which football team people, including your teachers, support. I think I can do a literary sort of line through my various teachers, showing the favourite author for each of them. When Heinrich Böll was awarded the Nobel, I read his most recent book. My German teacher adored Böll. I read several of his books. I am fairly sure I didn’t like any of them. Why did I do it?

I suppose it’s a good idea to try new writers, and not be too prejudiced. But to continue the punishment once you’ve established you don’t like someone’s writing, strikes me as madness.

Romantic in Leicester

Barely able to remember his name, I still seem to have a very soft spot for Carl Zlinter. His name popped up here last year when the discussion was about hot young men.

Nevil Shute, The Far Country

For today I wanted to think of something in a book that I have found very romantic, and believe me; I have trawled through hundreds of romances to be able to say this. To have Carl Zlinter turn up in Leicester to be with the girl he loves, is so romantic.

There he was in Australia after WWII, hoping to be allowed to stay after two years’ hard labour. And then he falls in love with a girl who has to go home to Leicester, and he devises a way to follow her, even when it means he has to re-train as a doctor, all over again.

(The Far Country by Nevil Shute did leave me an odd mental image of Leicester all those years ago. But the love story is absolutely fine. A little like the one I gave you for Christmas, in fact. I can’t make you cry in the same way, though.)

Young and hot, or perhaps not

Mary Hoffman went on a book tour to America last week, leaving us – her blog readers – with some exciting men to think about. I bet she did that on purpose.

She writes about some very attractive young men in her own books, and I trust Mary has done a lot of research to make our reading experience the best ever. But I am too old for her boys. I simply cannot lust after a teenager. Even setting propriety aside I find I can’t. I need older men.

Like the ones I was too young for when I was a teenager. Except in those days there wasn’t much in the way of teen books, so a girl had to lust after grown older men, or not lust at all. Lord Peter Wimsey is one such example mentioned by Mary. (And don’t tell anyone, but I did like him.)

That’s life. Nothing is ever right.

So, in those days I liked the Scarlet Pimpernel (even without Leslie Howard), and I adored Steven Howard in MM Kaye’s Death in Cyprus and Richard Byron in Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk. Various Alistair MacLean heroes, and Carl Zlinter from Nevil Shute’s The Far Country. (Go on, ridicule me!)

If there were any boys, I have forgotten them, which means they can’t have been all that special.

More recently I have liked Margery Allingham’s Campion, Mr Knightley, and Robert Stephens’s voice as Aragorn in the radio version of Lord of the Rings. There aren’t all that many attractive men in modern children’s or YA books, but there is Lupin. And from an old classic we have Daddy Longlegs.

If I absolutely have to find young men in current fiction they won’t be vampires. Not even faeries (sorry, Seth McGregor). I liked Wes in Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever, and Sanchez in Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan is quite a boy. And now that I think about it, the Cathys (Cassidy and Hopkins) do lovely young ones.

Abby and Ducky

Men on the screen, however, have got easier with age. The ten-year-old me knew it was wrong to be in love with Ilya Kuryakin, 23 years my senior. But he was so cute! And this being a lasting kind of passion, it was David McCallum who got me started on NCIS. He is still very good looking for a man approaching 80. And it was at NCIS I found Very Special Agent Gibbs, a man of the right age. At last. I reckon he is a modern Mr Knightley.


So, for me it is No Thanks to ‘hot young men.’ I need them to be grey these days.

(Link here to an older post about pretty boys. I seem to have grown out of them.)

Slow coach

And here I don’t mean Daughter’s (British) coach in Switzerland. It’s school trip time, and what better way to get to Switzerland than to put 120 15-year-olds on a coach for 21 hours? And there is nothing more reliable than a British coach. Out of three coaches, only two broke down en route for Dover. And yesterday one coach ran out of fuel while going up and down the mountain roads, so had to wait for a rescue vehicle to bring more fuel. Only, when it arrived they’d forgotten the fuel, so had to go back and get some. That took four hours. More travel for our money?

What I actually referred to was myself and my reading. I take an age, these days, reading almost anything. I was always a fast reader, and assumed that I’d stay much the same, but maybe not. Perhaps age does slow me down.

And then a friend emailed me an article about reading, last week. I think I’ve seen it before, but it was worth reading again. It’s about the Man Booker prize judges who read 100 books in as many days. It can obviously be done, but I don’t fancy it much.

When I worry about reading too slowly, I’m often reminded of a novel by Nevil Shute. I was a big fan in my teens, but this one I can no longer remember the title of. It’s about a man who ends up in prison, where he is only allowed two books per week. The first week he races through the books in the way he has always done, only to discover that there is far too much week left at the end of the books. So, he learns to read slowly, and to consider what he reads.

My main reasons for not hurrying through books the way I once did, is lack of time, and whenever I sit down with a book, I often feel so sleepy that I struggle to keep my eyelids open enough to see the page.

The Resident IT Consultant reads as much and as fast as he ever did, which is very annoying. I think it must indicate not enough chores round the house for him. He steals my books from under my nose in the most infuriating way, then drops my bookmark, and puts it back where he thinks it came from!

He also reads a very varied diet, whereas I stick to a few safe and tested types of book. I like to think of it as having the courage to say I’ll only read what I want to read, and none of this pretending to enjoy some books because it’s the done thing. If I want to live off children’s books and crime, and very little else, then I will.

Back in January I had this bright idea of making a list of what books I’d read during 2007. Some people believe I read a lot, and I sort of wanted to see if it was true. Never found the time to do it, so I still live in ignorance.

One very serious drawback with writing a blog, is that I use reading time to write. As it’s a book blog, that feels somewhat ridiculous. My next resolution will have to be to steel myself against the feeling that I have a duty to consider reading all the books that my lovely postman brings to my door. It’s impossible. And all of them may be good, but they are not all to my taste.