Cover of The Chequer Board

An author I read as a teenager, I thought I’d read most of his books but have gradually come across more of them over the years, and a quick glance at a list shows me there are several more I haven’t read. I certainly found them dated when I first read them, but entertaining, I expected to find this even more dated now, but I’m not sure I did really.

When I first read Shute I was young enough to wonder if the use of words like “mucking” and “mugger” rather than more explicit swear words was general usage at the time they were set; I know better these days but what dated this was having those replacements side by side with n*gger (which I can’t bring myself to type in a non-grawlixed manner in 2020). For a bit I worried that the central character, who similar to those in the other books, seemed to be a very British sort of nice guy were going to be revealed as horrible racists, and if so why was my library still stocking this book. I’m pleased to say that nothing like that came to pass, the book is very much against racism, which should probably have been clear from the title and that it’s still in circulation. There’s a thread of the story about an influx of black American soldiers who endear themselves to a Cornish village much better than their white counterparts do; and another about a mixed marriage in post-war Burma. There certainly are dated elements in those threads and elsewhere in the book though. Minor spoiler so I’ll hide it in tags: [spoilers removed]

Overall it was a good read despite bits of sexism and imperialism, it’s interesting these days from a historical perspective as well as an entertainment one. I like how the main character is no angel and I have a weird nostalgia for the bizarre framing device I’ve seen Shute use before where the main characters are introduced by another character who then plays next to no role in the story.


More information about this book can be found on goodreads.