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In the Wet

by Nevil Shute

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3721249,806 (3.85)51
It is the rainy season. Drunk and delirious, an old man lies dying in the Queensland bush. In his opium-hazed last hours, a priest finds his deserted shack and listens to his last words. Half-awake and half-dreaming the old man tells the story of an adventure set decades in the future, in a very different world...… (more)
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I have always rather liked Nevil Shute. This is my least favorite of the dozen or so books of his that I've read. Part of it is the weird polemics. Part of it is the clumsy way Shute went back and forth between the two, intertwined story lines.

So, we begin with a 60-something Church of England clergyman, Roger Hargreaves, in Northeastern Australia, Queensland. Hargreaves served a large parish, in terms of area, many square miles. They have two seasons there, wet and dry. "In the wet", travel is very difficult.

Well, Hargreaves meets up with an old drunk, Stevie. Stevie varies his time living with a Chinese guy (Liang Shih) who grows vegetables and opium, or living in town, cadging free drinks. Stevie had once been a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, and had later managed a "station" (Australian ranch).

Time goes on. One day, Liang Shih comes into town to tell the local medical person, Sister Finlay, that Stevie is very sick. Hargreaves and the Sister head out to check up on Stevie. It's just become rainy season, and the travel is difficult. Eventually they make it. To ease Stevie's pain, Liang Shih gives him some opium. Hargreaves sits by the bedside, hoping to comfort the sick, probably dying, man. He is hoping to help him ease his way into the "next world". Eventually, Hargreaves gets Stevie talking about his past and any possible relatives he might have. Stevie says his actual name is David Anderson, but his mates all call him Nigger. Stevie says he's married to a woman named Rosemary and has two children. He claims to have flown the queen around here and there.

Next thing one knows, the focus of the story has changed. Rather abruptly. No warning. No transition. Not even a gap in the printing or a new chapter. We've leapt from Australia in 1953 to England in 1983. Eventually, toward the end of the book, we leap back, and it all makes some kind of sense. In the meantime, we're invited to Shute's diatribes against socialism, the national health service, the one-man-one-vote model for democracy, and so forth. Much of the book does read like classic Shute with airplanes and boats woven in, a shy friendship between an man and a woman that leads to romance, and so forth.

Overall, it's a decent enough book, but the polemic nature of Shute's stunted politics gets wearying, and as I said, the clumsy transition between 1953 and 1983 and back is very disorienting.
( )
  lgpiper | Jun 21, 2019 |
Queensland, Australia, 1953, during the rainy season— “the wet,” as it’s known. The parish priest for the area is called to the bedside of a dying man, Stevie, a local itinerant. In an opium fog, and a malarial fog on the part of the priest, Stevie tells a story of England and Australia in 1983. The monarchy faces a constitutional crisis, and the protagonist of Stevie’s story, an RAAF pilot named David Anderson, plays a key role. But is this just a delusion, or a glimpse into the future?

As a plot setup, this is totally bananas. I’d forgotten to check the blurb again before starting to read and thought that Stevie was actually David. My timelines were muddled for most of the rest of the book. But the two storylines themselves—Queensland in 1953 and England in 1983—were great. I particularly loved all the descriptions of the flights and the aircraft dynamics. So much plane nerdiness! I might have to lend this to my pilot friends to see what they think of the content :)

I also liked the glimpses of the royal family as people, although for some reason I kept picturing the Queen and Prince Philip as their Coronation-era selves rather than how they would have looked in the 1980s. Maybe because the book was published in 1953. And as a Canadian, I enjoyed the parts set (albeit briefly) in Canada and the fact that Canada was one of the nations donating a plane and crew to the Queen for her use.

The one thing that really doesn’t work about this book is that David’s nickname is the N-word, and the nickname is used A LOT in the story :-/ ( )
  rabbitprincess | Apr 19, 2019 |
I have been a Nevil Shute fan for more than 30 years, and IN THE WET was one of his many novels I'd not read. Well, now I have - mostly (I skimmed a lot) - and it was something of a disappointment. Even Shute's most famous book, ON THE BEACH, is a speculative look at the future, and so too is this one, but it's a bit quirkier, in that it also deals with the idea of reincarnation. Published in 1953, the story begins in that approximate era, in remote northern Queensland, narrated by an Anglican priest who encounters a ragged old drunk, who is dying, but believes more in reincarnation than he does heaven and hell. From there the story quickly morphs into a future 30 years off, after a third World War (with the Russians) which has left England impoverished and with a shrinking population while both Australia and Canada have grown and prospered. The story sinks a bit too deeply into partisan politics and anti-royalty stuff at this point, and I found it off-putting and boring. So - the skimming mentioned.

The central character in the future portion of IN THE WET was David Anderson, a pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) who had distinguished himself in the third war and was now tasked with being the chief pilot with a new, modern aircraft, for the Queen's use whenever she wanted to travel to Australia. Canada had one too. The British PM and other officials were highly critical of the Queen and such doings, etc. This is where I got bored and started skimming. Another curious and off-putting part of the story is that Anderson revealed himself to be part Aborigine, a 'quadroon,' and among his mates went by nickname, well, the "n-word." And claimed to be okay with it. Well that certainly wouldn't work today, and even in the fifties it might have been a bit iffy, ya know? And there is a beautiful young woman, a court secretary, who falls in love with David/'N' - not at all put off by his heritage or his unfortunate nickname.

Then I got tired of the whole business and skipped ahead to the ending, which rather awkwardly tied it all together, using that reincarnation tool. So - nope. Sorry to the late Mr Shute, but this one just plain didn't work for me. Not recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Feb 8, 2019 |
OK, not what I was expecting. The frame is a very Nevil Shute outback story - the old drunkard, who clearly has a story and equally clearly isn't telling anyone what it is; a deathbed with some opium involved - and then the story veers off in very interesting directions. It's SF - it's the future, for the characters and for the author (1970 is sometime in the past, though I don't think I ever figured out exactly what year it was. 1990s or 2000s, I think). The old man "remembers", in detail (somewhat excessive detail, when you think of it as a memory or dream, though it fits the story) events of this future year, and what England and Australia (and Canada) have become by then. It's retrofuturism now - that's not what happened, in several angles - but it makes me want to study the situation as it actually was when the story was written to see what Shute was seeing as trends. The characters in the future are interesting - I was particularly taken by the, I think accurate, level of racism. The main character is "Nigger" Anderson - he's a quadroon, a quarter black, and he's more sensitive to it than most of those around him, including his love interest. I think his chosen nickname was rather clever - by calling himself that, he defuses it as a slur (how can anyone insult him by calling him by the name he told them to call him?). He's a pilot, and we get the blow-by-blow of several flights ("he adjusted the throttle, and altered the angle of the ailerons..."); there's also (as I said) a lot of politics and social/economic discussion. And it's still a good adventure. Shute neatly sneaked in the epilogue - what became of these characters after the story was over - before the beginning of the flash-forward, too - nice. Overall, not what I was expecting - which is what I've come to expect from Shute. Lovely. ( )
3 vote jjmcgaffey | May 28, 2018 |
Another really superb book by Shute. I did discover one anomaly this time. David and Rosemary discuss how much fun it would be to plan your own new house, but then they decide to take that opportunity away from the Queen.

Obviously this has aged a lot, and doesn't fit with real history. It's still a wonderful piece of writing, though. ( )
1 vote MarthaJeanne | Oct 11, 2016 |
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Lord God of Hosts, through whom alone
A Prince can rule his nation,
Who settest Kings upon their throne
And orderset each man's station;
Now, and through ages following, This grace to us be given:
To serve and love an earthly King
Who serves our King in Heaven. C.A. Alington (from a Hymn sung in Shrewsbury School)
Lord God of Hosts, through whom alone

A Prince can rule his nation,
Who settest Kings upon their throne

And orderset each man's station;

Now, and through ages following, This grace to us be given: To serve and love an earthly King

Who serves our King in Heaven. C.A. Alington (from a Hymn sung in Shrewsbury School)
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I have never before sat down to write anything so long as this may be, though I have written plenty of sermons and articles for parish magazines.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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It is the rainy season. Drunk and delirious, an old man lies dying in the Queensland bush. In his opium-hazed last hours, a priest finds his deserted shack and listens to his last words. Half-awake and half-dreaming the old man tells the story of an adventure set decades in the future, in a very different world...

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A story of the future --- the 1980s.
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