Apart from "On the Beach" this is probably the darkest and least optimistic of Shute's novels. Stevenson, the central character is a bitter, lonely man who in middle age remains obsessed with his experiences as a naval officer during the war. Having failed in several relationships with women and finding himself with few friends, he drinks far too much, drives too fast and doesn't like the person he has become. Then, by a series of coincidences, he meets a very special young woman and he suddenly sees the opportunity to start a new life. But then, fate deals him a violent and crippling blow and feeling that he has lost everything that he cared about, he devotes his energies to a settling of accounts with those he deems to have been responsible for his tragedy.
Definitely not intended as a "feel-good" story, yet it's well crafted. At times, I found myself wondering how much of Stevenson's persona was a reflection of Shute's own personality and his disillusionment with the post-war era, when the British economy was in ruins, political dirty tricks were rife and many were wondering what had been gained by the war.
On a more positive note, one of Shute's favorite themes shines through: his admiration for the spunk, adaptability and integrity of relatively simple individuals who, despite having relatively little education and lacking advantages in a highly class-conscious society, prove themselves capable of great things against all odds and often advance far up the socio-economic scale. At least one such character (like Molly in this case) appears in every one of Shute's novels.
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