Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Book Review

The Far Country

An appreciation by Helen Yeomans

The Far Country is the story of two people who meet in a distant land, are separated by circumstance, and eventually reunited through hard work and a stroke of fortune. The central characters are an English girl, Jennifer Morton, her Australian farming relatives, the Dormans, and Carl Zlinter, a Czech immigrant doctor. One of the most engrossing passages (in a book full of them) involves Carl, who has no license to practice in Australia, performing two major surgical operations in the woods, unaided except for Jennifer.

In scope, The Far Country is one of Nevil Shute's most ambitious works, and it contains some of the wittiest, most moving, entertaining and descriptive passages in all his writing. The novel is a study in contrasts: poverty and plenty; the brilliant colours of the Australian countryside and the drab greyness of postwar Britain; the grace and grandeur of Victorian England and the institutional meanness of the same society a scant half-century later.

Shute was a terrific story teller and a master at weaving into his tales the issues that mattered to him. His portrayal of the quiet starvation of an elderly English lady provides the story's first turning point, but also amounts to a scathing indictment of the welfare system. Later on, the Dormans' glorious Melbourne spending-spree is not only a hugely satisfying read, it's an implicit approval of a society that rewards hard work and sacrifice.

The Far Country is peopled with the sane, competent and likable men and women who are the hallmark of a Nevil Shute novel. It is a love story and so of course love triumphs in the end. But it's a great deal more besides, and for me, anyway, it lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned.