Saturday, 28 May 2011

More Flying Vikings

Many years ago, I read the novels A Town Like Alice and On the Beach by Nevil Shute - not that I remember much about them. He was very popular in the middle of the last century, but is not widely read now. For some reason, he came to my attention again recently, because of his interest in Vikings, and I have caught up with his 1940 novel An Old Captivity. I enjoyed it because it is partly set in Greenland, especially in Qaqortoq and Qassiarsuq (or Brattahlíð), places of which I have fond memories from my one and only visit to Greenland in 2008 (though I singularly failed to blog about them then). The story concerns an implausible attempt to do aerial photography in Greenland to demonstrate the existence of a Celtic (i.e. pre-Norse) monastery there, but involves some runic discoveries and a rather closer encounter with Leifr Eiríksson than one might expect.
Apart from the Greenland episodes, which are brief and awfully slow in coming, the novel is mainly of interest if you like aviation history and are particularly keen to know the mechanics of flying in difficult climates in the 1930s. There are certainly a lot of valves that need cleaning and complicated calculations involving the fuel mixture to ensure the flight will reach its destination, not to mention hooking the seaplane onto its buoy, which the girl gets to do. And the author never explains how people could sit in an aeroplane for 12 hours, dressed in a one-piece flying suit, without going to the loo. The author's views of women, or indeed anyone not a white European male, are also pretty antediluvian, even for 1940. But it's a rollicking enough tale, and passes the time nicely if you like that sort of thing. I am now ploughing through Shute's screenplay Vinland the Good (1946), on a similar theme, but even less exciting. I'm not surprised Hollywood never took it up.
Well, I don't exactly seem to be recommending the book, but at least it gives me an excuse to show you a photo of what many of us on that 2008 trip eventually began to call an 'AFI' ('another effing iceberg'; that's how blasé we got after several days of sailing up and down the fjords). And at least I discovered that Nevil Shute was really called Nevil Shute Norway, which seems appropriate somehow.


  1. The aircraft stuff was no idle fascination, either, he was the main man behind a company called Airspeed who made zippy runabouts for the gentry and early airliners in the late 1930s and before that had worked with Barnes Wallis on the airship R100.

  2. Yes, and I gather from Wikipedia he was a Balliol man, too...