So Disdained - Impressive Novel
Nevil Shute Novel
A friend of mine lent me a book titled "So Disdained" - a novel by Nevil Shute. So Disdained.
It is a simple novel, set in 1920s. Two World War I British pilots, one now working as an Estate Manager for some Lord in England.
The second guy was an ace pilot during World War I. After the war got over and remained jobless for a while. Those were early years of aviation, so he did some show flying, giving joy rides to passengers in carnivals, or in beaches. But none of those businesses worked. Then worked in some automobile garage, tried hard to make both ends meet. After 3 to 4 years, his wife leaves him.
That is when he sees an Advertisement by Soviet Union Embassy for World War I British pilots to be utilised as trainers in Kiev to train Russian pilots. Lots of money offered. So he takes up that job and goes off to Kiev.
Character - Maurice
Maurice jobless, penniless, left by wife, friendless from England goes off to Russia to train Russian pilots.
After few years, towards the end of his contract, the Russians want him to fly an espionage flight over England. Fly in the middle of the night over Portsmouth in England, photograph that place and land back at a Russian controlled airfield in central Europe. Then take that extra money and walk away to live your life.
Maurice does that, after photographing, his engine develops some problem and shuts down, so he force lands that plane in one of the fields that belong to the estate of the Lord, managed by the first hero.
Because of flying for several hours in the cold (Russia to UK in 1920s, navigating by night), Maurice is quite feverish and sick, he is walking in the middle of the night after force landing his plane and by chance, his one time colleague in Royal Air Force, the manager of the estate drives by and picks up this stranger walking in that deserted place in wee hours.
Maurice has force landed in a field belonging to the Estate managed by our hero. Maurice is very sick, middle of the night, hero happens to drive past and offers lift. Maurice refuses because he is carrying those espionage photos of Portsmouth port. But hero finds it very funny, hero knows all village folks in that estate, M looks stranger, what is he doing walking in middle of night and then hero recognises Maurice as his old Squadron mate during World War I.
Now Maurice cannot avoid, reluctantly gets into car, hero finds that he is sick puts him in a outhouse and gets the outlines of Maurice's espionage flight for Russians.
Once Maurice falls asleep, hero drives back, spots that force landed plane and manages to hide it inside some barn so that no one can spot it.
Maurice sleeps/recovers for next 3-4 days, meanwhile British authorities come to the hero inquiring about the possible force landed plane in that area. Hero bluffs and sends them away. On his part, the hero exposes those photo plates so that even if anyone finds it, there is nothing in it. Also if Russians come looking for it, they get nothing. Maurice asleep all the while.
Meanwhile Russians send in another plane to do the job left incomplete by Maurice and this time the British Air Force is ready and shoots down that plane. Maurice's German friend is the pilot of that shot down plane.
Maurice wakes up, finds out all the news, now that he is fit, he takes those photo plates and gets away secretly. So that hero can keep up his story of innocence. Also to hand over those photos to Russians, take his share as well as his German friends' share of the money, give that share to his friends' wife and then get on with life with money in pocket.
Maurice takes those photo plates and runs off to southern France where there is rendezvous with Russians. Hero looks for him in the outhouse, guesses what Maurice must have done and decides to go after him. Also hero had found out that the Russians would kill Maurice.
In some drama (after all a fiction it is), hero decides to fly the plane crash landed by Maurice. He pulls it out of the barn, coincidentally there are some World War I Air Force technicians amongst villagers who make that plane all right. Hero has not touched a plane for 12 years (he flew in WW I) and definitely had no clue of this new Russian plane.
Yet he takes off and flies to South France and finds the rendezvous place. He decides to land at a field near by. Since he has no clue of the landing speeds of this plane, he makes 2-3 low passes, gets a feel of the handling characteristics, guesses the probable speed range for landing and comes for final touch down. As he turns the plane for the final approach, he loses control and plane spins out of his hands and crashes.
But hero survives with few bruises and a fracture which he slings it and proceeds towards the rendezvous (fiction, isn't it).
There he finds Maurice profusely bleeding besides few dead Russians. Maurice had managed to take the money.
Facing sure death, Maurice hands over the money to hero, to be given to his ex-wife as well as to the family of his German friend. The M asks hero to tell his ex-wife how much he loved her, how much he tried to earn a decent living, how much he struggled, how much he thought about her etc. Then Maurice makes sure that those photo plates are properly exposed so that there can be no espionage against his England.
Then he awaits his death. Passes out and comes back a few times. Hero (and heroine too) are with him as support. But it is open country, no help for 30-40 kms, and Maurice is fatally wounded.
As he awaits his death, Maurice asks hero about how he followed him to France. Hero explains his flight!
Maurice is surprised. Hero says how he lost control and how the plane spanned out of his hands while turning for final approach.
Early planes used rudders to turn their nose towards the desired direction. Quite like boats/ships. But with advanced knowledge of aerodynamics, planes were rigged in such a manner that you bank (put a wing down) to turn. And rudder just for support. (these days we don't touch the rudder at all for turning). This happened because of the need for greater directional stability than lateral stability. And if you kick the rudder on these planes, at the slow speeds you maintain while turning for approach, the nose would drop, but if you hold the nose up forcibly like the hero did to keep it aimed at the runway, both wings stall, but the outer wing produces more lift than inner wing and hence the plane starts spinning.
Maurice explains all this to the hero. And then dies. Hero returns back to his estate manager business along with the heroine, who obviously is the estate owner's daughter.
Nevil Shute from Amazon
This last page of the book made a huge impact on me. I too was facing unemployment, a wasted youth and the only saving grace was to find women, to earn money, to show off to friends and such fashionable things. My knowledge of the world was limited only to those things. This last page changed that knowledge.
It also clarified a lot to me.
What does a man do? Try to do his bit on this earth, try to earn respect in society, try to earn the love of a woman, try to be patriotic towards his country. One may either succeed or fail in these attempts. After doing all that, failing some where, succeeding some where, failing more, struggling more, after that what?
It is worth thinking about it.
Not the best of Nevil Shute, but he wrote some great ones - "A Town Like Alice" i