It’s been a while since I’ve read anything by Nevil Shute and this book reminded me how much I enjoy his writing. I thought I’d already read the best of his novels but Requiem for a Wren certainly deserves to be placed on a par with works such as Pied Piper, A Town Like Alice, and Trustee From the Toolroom.
Set partly in the time of WW2 and the years following, it is filled with Shute’s trademark aviation knowledge, which surprisingly doesn’t hinder this non-tech reader’s enjoyment of his writing.
I’ve previously mentioned the author’s ability to get into the skin of his characters who are never ‘standard heroes’ but just very ordinary people whose courage is called upon by unlooked for dilemmas and circumstances; common, quiet folk who rise for a short time, do what needs to be done and go back to their quiet lives. This book is no exception.
From the very first page there is a sense that this story is going to be tragic. There is an inexorable pull in that direction as Alan, the narrator, tells the story of his brother, Bill, and Janet, the young woman he would have married had he survived the war.
All three had met just before the invasion of Normandy but were never to meet again.
The brothers were Australian and the story takes place in Britain and Australia.
After the war Alan sets out on a quest to find Janet, a search that takes him back to England, across to America and then back to Victoria in Australia. What he finds out in his search poignantly reveals Janet’s character and background. Alan is determined to find her and to offer her a home with his parents on their rural property which would have been her lot if circumstances hadn’t intervened to prevent her marriage to Bill.
Unfortunately, Alan always found himself on the back foot in his search. Between Janet’s many moves, the post war confusion, his hospitalisation and rehabilitation after being seriously injured in an air battle, he would arrive somewhere expecting to find her only to discover she had moved on.
'Like some infernal monster, still venomous in death, a war can go on killing people for a long time after its all over.'
This is a sad book with a mix of mystery and WW2 events. Somehow Shute imbues his tragedies with a not altogether bleak outlook. There is some hope within the pathos.
An achingly beautiful read. Highly recommended!
For my thoughts on other books by Nevil Shute see here and here.
Linking up to the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge: Classic Tragic Novel