Landfall by Nevil Shute (1940)

Landfall is another book by Nevil Shute that is not only set during World War II but was written during that time. The immediacy of the conflict and Shute’s background in aviation engineering adds credibility to his books. Although the technical detail he employs in all of his stories sometimes goes over my non-technical head, I never feel that it spoils the story. I enjoy the fact that Shute had a passion for his subject and it just flowed into his writing.

Landfall is a simple and satisfying story with a happy ending, which doesn’t always happen in his novels. Chambers, a young pilot in the British Airforce, has just started going out with Mona, a barmaid, and a romance is beginning to blossom. However, in those days of more rigid class structure, Mona thinks that she’d be an embarrassment to her young man and wouldn’t fit in to the airforce culture if they married.

Chambers is stationed at Portsmouth, a naval base on England’s south coast. His job is to fly back and forth over the English Channel with his crew members looking for enemy submarines. They are given specific instructions about identifying the German machines as well as rigid parameters for their flights. 

One day, just before midday, Chambers takes off minus his co-pilot who had called in sick. All afternoon Chambers and two other crew members flew back and forth across the sea between England and France plotting the course, positions, and nationalities of ships. It was uninspiring work…until Chambers spotted a submarine and believing it to be German, bombed it.

 That evening, after being cheered by his fellows in the pilot’s room on his return, he and his squadron leader received a message to report to their Wing-Commander who handed Chambers a message from a trawler that had been in the Channel:

Submarine destroyed by Anson aircraft…Recovered two British naval caps, one British naval jumper, two empty packets Players’ cigarettes. Returning to port immediately. Position buoyed.

One of the English submarines was overdue and was not answering signals. It was thought that Chambers had sunk a British sub. An Airforce and Navy investigation was not conclusive but the Navy believed Chambers had acted negligently. Devastated, the young man asked for a transfer but before he went, he arranged to meet Mona to explain what happened and to say goodbye.

For the first time somebody heard the whole story, unrestrained and unedited in the pilot’s mind, told without fear or thought of consequences. The girl listened without interrupting very much, trying to understand the work he had to do. She was unused to mental concentration. Other people had always done her thinking for her. Here she felt instinctively, with all her being, was something she must try to understand if she was to help him, and she wanted most terribly to help him. She bent all her energies to the task of understanding.

Mona’s work as a barmaid brought her into contact with a wide range of servicemen and women. Her concern and growing fondness for Chambers and her belief that he was blameless, inspires her to clear his name. She hears information as she goes about her work and knows that it is important – if she could only talk to someone in authority! 

The dialogue in Shute’s stories sometimes comes over as a little stilted. That was the case with this one in places. I don’t think he excels in that area but his stories are always good. I’ve mentioned in other posts that Shute was a master at portraying insignificant or very ordinary characters placed into unusual circumstances and developing their personalities. He’s done it again in this book with both Mona and her young man.

So let them pass, small people of no great significance, caught up and swept together like dead leaves in the great whirlwind of the war.

Linking up to TBR 23 in 23

5 thoughts on “Landfall by Nevil Shute (1940)

  1. It is good to read your thoughts on his style of writing and what informs it for when I start the book of his I got recently at a Free Street Library. I rather like the sound of Mona.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 1940 Book Club | journey & destination

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