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Shute, Nevil

war story post classic

(British, 1899–1960)

A highly skilled aeronautical engineer, Shute was co-opted onto the team working on the famous airship R101 in the 1930s, an aspect of his life which is related in his fascinating autobiography, Slide Rule (1954). He was an imaginative and naturally gifted story-teller. Some of Shute's most interesting fiction, such as No Highway (1948) and Trustee from the Toolroom (1960), is set in the technological and business world.

In 1949 Shute moved to Australia, the setting for On the Beach (1957), one of his most popular works. A shocking anti-war story, it tells of the survivors of nuclear war, awaiting the arrival of a deadly post-war radiation cloud from the northern hemisphere. It is a gripping, realistic, cold war horror story: a classic of the 1950s. Shute's plain, precise style and affectionate character portraits are well represented in the romantic post-war classic, A Town Like Alice (1950). In this affecting adventure, Jean Paget and Joe Harmon are fated to meet in the worst circumstances on a ‘death march’ at the hands of Japanese captors in occupied Malaya during the war. He thinks she is married: she comes to believe he has been killed by the enemy. But after the war they seek each other out in a tale which is an intriguing narrative conducted at more than one level.

Larry Niven, Ernest Hemingway  AM

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