Round the Bend (1951 novel)

Round the Bend (1951 novel)

"Round the Bend" was a 1951 novel by Nevil Shute. It tells the story of Constantine "Connie" Shaklin, an aircraft engineer who founds a new religion transcending existing religions based on the merit of good work.

In many ways, the book explores themes that would later be reflected in Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". Richard Bach's 1977 novel Illusions appears based on Round the Bend.

Plot summary

The novel is in the first person, seen through the eyes of Thomas Cutter, an aircraft pilot and engineer.

The novel starts with Cutter's boyhood--he gets a job with the air circus, of barnstorming aircraft which take customers up for short joyrides, with other entertainment provided. Cutter meets Shaklin, who is a year or so older and is a British subject who is half Chinese and half Russian, and who even then has a deep interest in religion, taking days off to visit houses of worship. When the air circus folds, the two drift apart.

Cutter apprentices in aviation. He marries his wife Beryl shortly before being posted overseas as a civilian to do military-related aviation work during World War II. While overseas, he learns his wife has been unfaithful. He is stern, but forgiving, in letters to her, but when she learns that he is soon to return, she commits suicide. Cutter blames himself. He cannot stand to return to his old job or remain in England, so he takes a small freight aircraft and goes to the Persian Gulf to start a freight business.

Cutter's new business fills a need there, and he gradually expands. Hired to take a load to Indonesia, he is surprised to find Shaklin there, working for a gunrunner who has been arrested by the Dutch, then in control of much of Indonesia. Shaklin has maintained his interest in spiritualism, but is also a very experienced engineer. Cutter is able to hire Shaklin and purchase the gunrunner's plane. Both prove major assets to his business. As Cutter retrieves the plane from a small village in Cambodia, he notes that Shaklin has become a religious leader of sorts there.

Shaklin proves a major influence both on Cutter's staff, impressing on them the need for good and honest work, and on the local Arab community. Putting his teachings in terms of the Koran, he soon gains influence over the local Sheikh. At this time, the Persian Gulf was still a protectorate of the British. The Sheikh offers Cutter a large interest-free loan for a needed large aircraft. He accepts, and when he returns with the aircraft, finds that the British civil servants are very much upset about the transaction, decrying Shaklin's influence over the Sheikh. Cutter does his best to soothe matters, but the British order Shaklin out of the area.

In the interim, Connie's sister, Nadezna, has arrived to become Cutter's secretary. She and Cutter rapidly find themselves attracted to each other.

Since one of Cutter's customers needs repeated trips to the Far East, Cutter assigns Shaklin to head his operations in Bali. One of the local girls is soon in unrequited love with him, while Shaklin busies himself learning about the local religion--and influencing it.

Back in the Persian Gulf, Shaklin's expulsion has indirectly caused a more reasonable attitude by the British. Shaklin is now held in almost divine regard by the Arabs. When questioned on this point by the new British political officer, Captain Morrison, Cutter, whose first name is Thomas, three times denies Shaklin's divinity. The Sheikh's health has been failing, and he expresses a desire to see Shaklin before he dies. He and his entourage travel to Bali to visit Shaklin. This pilgrimage both inspires others to similarly travel--and stirs up the Dutch colonial administrators, who expel Shaklin from Indonesia. The Sheikh's doctor has expressed concerns about Shaklin's health, and he is soon diagnosed with leukemia--at that time a death sentence.

Shaklin expresses the desire to travel about meeting with the aircraft technicians he has influenced, for by this time his fame has spread throughout Asia. He does so until he is too weak to continue, and then he is taken back to the Cambodian village where his teaching started, and where he dies. Given his following, and the fact that so many believe Shaklin divine, Nadezna feels it would be letting them down to marry and live an ordinary life. She goes into a convent, while Cutter resolves to run his air service as a credit to Connie, and is set the task of being one of those who will write a new set of Gospels, but about Shaklin's life--Cutter's volume of these new Scriptures is the book that has just been read. He still believes Shaklin merely human, but is willing to consider the possibility of him being divine.

Shute believed Round the Bend to be his finest novel. []


*"... Right Thinking is indicated in Right Work, and Right Work in Right Thinking, because both are one. ... No man cumbered with error in the Work can reach the state or Right Meditation ..."
*"He took the words to the Buddha in the list of the blessed things, that a man ought to hear and see much in order to acquire knowledge, and of study all science that leads not to sin. He has been saying that in studying the stresses and the forces in the structure of an aircraft, the thermodynamics of an engine or the flow of current in the oscillating circuits of a radio transmitter, we are but following the injunctions of Guatama, who said expressly that we were to learn these things. The world is full of suffering and pain caused by our wrong desires and hatreds and illusions, and only knowledge can remove these causes of our suffering ..."
*"I still think Connie was a human man, a very, very good one--but a man. I have been wrong in my judgments many times before; if now I am ignorant and blind, I'm sorry, but it's no new thing. If that should be the case, though, it means I have had great privileges in my life, perhaps more so than any man alive today. Because it means that on the fields and farms of England, on the airstrips of the desert and the jungle, in the hangars of the Persian Gulf and on the tarmacs of the southern islands, I have walked and talked with God."

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