Nevil Shute (Norway) 1899–1960
Shute was a popular novelist of the 1940s and 1950s who is best known for his futuristic novel On the Beach (1957). An aeronautical engineer and aviator, Shute served in both world wars, and the majority of his novels are based on his experiences and reflect his lifelong passion for aviation. Many are set in Australia, where Shute eventually settled. Primarily a storyteller, Shute peopled his works with ordinary characters, but related extraordinary circumstances. Several of his novels—On the Beach, No Highway, Pied Piper, and A Town Like Alice—were made into films.
One of the most interesting aspects of Shute's career was his penchant for predicting the future. In What Happened to the Corbetts (1939), he related the story of an English family terrorized by the bombing of their town. Shortly thereafter, the English faced a similar situation. No Highway (1948) depicts the crash of a jet due to metal fatigue; within a few years a similar crash occurred. Shute was fascinated with predicting such events. In his postscript to In the Wet (1953), he wrote: "No man can see into the future, but unless somebody makes a guess from time to time and publishes it to stimulate discussion it seems to me that we are drifting in the dark, not knowing where we want to go or how to get there."
On the Beach is one of the first novels to probe the possibility of nuclear annihilation. It tells the story of the last survivors of a nuclear war, who await death by radiation. Although some critics contended that the novel lacked drama because Shute avoided the depiction of suffering, others praised its terrifying sense of despair. On the Beach has gained relevance in view of current concern about nuclear warfare.
Several of Shute's other works also treat subjects of interest to young adults. In An Old Captivity (1940) and Vinland the Good (1940), Shute recounts Viking adventures and explorations. In Pied Piper (1942), an elderly gentleman escorts a group of children through German-occupied France. In A Town Like Alice (1950), the Japanese force a group of women and children to wander from town to town and survive by their own means. In his works, Shute favors strong-willed, able young people who face adversity with the strength of moral conviction.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 102.)