Shute: Memorable, As Always
Although The Rainbow and the Rose tells the story of veteran airplane pilot Johnnie Pascoe, Johnnie himself never appears in the book. Shute brings Johnnie to life through drug-induced dream sequences, as he did to recreate Icelandic sagas in An Old Captivity and to imagine Australia?s future in In the Wet.
Narrator Ronnie Clark learned flying from Johnnie in England years ago. When he hears that Johnnie has been badly injured in a failed rescue flight in a remote area of Tasmania, Ronnie enlists the help of a reluctant young doctor in an attempt to save his old friend?s life.
Horrendously bad weather thwarts their first efforts. Ronnie, exhausted, bunks in Johnnie?s nearby house for a few hours? sleep before trying again. The house is filled with mementos and photos of Johnnie?s past ? the planes he flew and the women he loved. Ronnie drinks Johnnie?s whiskey and smokes one of his cigarettes; he takes a Nembutal and, sleeping in Johnnie?s bed, he dreams Johnnie?s dreams ? reliving his loves and tragedies in vivid, heartbreaking detail. The WWI hero, the beautiful actress; the aerial dogfights and prison camp; the disillusions of adapting to civilian life with an unhappy wife who abandons and then divorces him. Later, Johnnie?s brief happiness with a young married woman whom he teaches to fly. They fall in love. She bears him a daughter, then one horrible day she dies, spinning her Moth from 600 feet, diving into the ground before Johnnie?s eyes.
Ronnie?s long night ends. At dawn he takes off with the doctor and a young nurse who knows Johnnie; she wants to help and just ?happened to turn up at the right moment.?
This intense novel is one of Shute?s last. Johnnie?s WWI flying sequences draw the reader right into the cockpit, and Ronnie?s desperate rescue flights through clouds and pounding rain ? so close to the coastal cliffs that at one point he fancies he can see the eyes of birds on the rocks -- are equally hair-raising. But Johnnie?s tangled personal history is the heart of this book; before it ends we learn that he has, albeit unwittingly, fallen into yet another extraordinary relationship. Shute, a deeply moral man, didn?t deal much with adultery, out-of-wedlock babies and suicide, but his story-telling skills continued to expand in scope and depth year after year. Rainbow makes one wish he had lived to write a dozen more books. Recommended.