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Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute

Requiem for a Wren (1955)

by Nevil Shute

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Time to cue the old Vera Lynn recordings. We're talking England during World War II and its aftermath. Good stuff. I'm a bit of an Anglophile and love immersing myself into the British experience from the 30s through the 50s. So, now you understand the basic setting and have your background music cued up, on to the plot sketch.

First, what's a Wren? Well, the WRNS were the Woman's Royal Naval Service, but its members were generally called the wrens, like the birds. I wonder if "bird" was a slang term for a woman back then, or if that came in during the Beatles' era, when I first learned of that bit of slang. Whatever, Wrens were where women helped out the British Navy and they lived in a barracks called the wrenery. One can imagine that if Shakespeare had lived 350 years later, he might have had Hamlet telling Ophelia to "get thee to a wrennery". Or, perhaps not. But, I'm digressing, huh?

Anyway, some five or eight years after the end of World War II, we have a young Australian, Alan Duncan, coming back to live on his parents' sheep station. He finds the household in a flutter, because the parlour maid, Jessie Proctor had just committed suicide. She had apparently left no personal items behind so that people could know who her relatives were or whom to contact about her. After talking to the cook, Alan figures out that at least one of the personal items that came into the house with Jessie might have disappeared. He wonders if she might have hidden something. So he searches the house and eventually finds, tucked away in the attic, a suit case with Jessie's personal papers. But, as Alan begins to investigate those papers, he realizes that the young woman was actually Leading Wren Janet Prentiss, who had been his brother Bill's sweetheart during the war.

What then follows is a meditation on the life of Janet Prentiss, partly from the diaries she had left behind, and partly from Alan's recollections from the time he met her and also from talks he had with her friends after the war. He had met Janet once, and after his brother was killed in combat, had tried to track her down so as to communicate with her. He viewed her as family, in that he was certain she and Bill would have wed had they both survived the war.

It's a simply, but beautifully written story of the heroism and staunch optimism of the British people during the dark times they faced during the early and middle 1940s. One of my all-time favorites.
( )
  lgpiper | Jun 21, 2019 |
An combination of a mystery, a war story, and an unusual tale of obsessional love. Apart from all that it credibly traces the etiology of a psychological disorder, making for interesting reading. The two main characters, both damaged by war, come to seek each other. This motif of mutual search, also seen in Shute's A Town Like Alice, has a different result here.
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  bkinetic | Sep 12, 2017 |
Doing well on his artificial feet, Alan Duncan returns to his parents' remote sheep station in Australia a few years after World War II. Now his parents are aging he feels the need to take the place of his brother Bill, who died a hero in the war. But his homecoming is marred by the suicide of his parents' parlormaid, of whom they were very fond. Investigating, Alan soon realises that the young woman had served in the Royal Navy and participated along with his brother in the secret build-up to the Normandy invasion. To solve the mystery of her death he pieces together the tragic events and the lonely burden of guilt that marred her life. Another great story from Nevil Shute. ( )
  DebbieMcCauley | Jan 3, 2017 |
3½/5 ( )
  Bagpuss | Jan 17, 2016 |
Requiem For A Wren by Nevil Shute 5/5

Shute reveals the end at the beginning, but only part of it, the devastating part. A young woman's suicide that seemingly has no rhyme or reason starts the returning home Aussie pilot on a journey through his past. The attention to detail is fantastic and the reader learns much about the nitty gritty of maintaining the gunnery parts of British WWII ships. I had no idea that there was such a thing as Ordinance Wrens in the War. They were an integral part of the War Effort and they suffered as much of what we know now as PTSD as any of the soldiers that saw action.

All of this plays into Shute's story and is worked beautifully into a story of love, war, regret and family. While the author pulls no punches, he does not dramatize, he tells it like it was, laying bare the hearts of the characters. Even knowing of the eventual end of the pivotal character does not take away from the dramatic tension Shute creates throughout the story. He brings us to slow realizations in a wonderfully artistic manner, dawn breaking finally revealing the true depth of each character.

Highly Recommended. ( )
  booknest | Nov 28, 2014 |
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There was a layer of cumulus, about seven-tenths, with tops at about five thousand feet as we came to Essendon airport.
She opened a drawer and took out a bag of dark blue leather. She opened it, and picked out the pen. It was a Parker 51, dark blue in colour, in good condition; the ink was still fresh in the nib. It had been used for writing very recently.
I did quite a lot of flying at the London Aeroplane Club, at Panshanger, on Tiger Moths and Austers.
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Requiem for a Wren and The Breaking Wave are the same book.
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"The Breaking Wave "is one of Nevil Shute's most poignant and psychologically suspenseful novels, set in the years just after World War II. Sidelined by a wartime injury, fighter pilot Alan Duncan reluctantly returns to his parents' remote sheep station in Australia to take the place of his brother Bill, who died a hero in the war. But his homecoming is marred by the suicide of his parents' parlourmaid, of whom they were very fond. Alan soon realises that the dead young woman is not the person she pretended to be. Upon discovering that she had served in the Royal Navy and participated along with his brother in the secret build-up to the Normandy invasion, Alan sets out to piece together the tragic events and the lonely burden of guilt that unravelled one woman's life. In the process of finding the answer to the mystery, he realises how much he had in common with this woman he never knew and how "a war can go on killing people long after it's all over."… (more)

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