Rex Warner is probably best known for his novel The Aerodrome(pub.1941) which has achieved the paradoxical status of being famous for not being more well known. This is the log rolling of publicists which has just the effect of activating the 'ho-hum' response which is akin to a knee jerk but with a strong apathy vector. Then I found it, a slimly elegant Penguin in very nice condition dating from the Hitler war. On the inside back cover I am told:
Zoning now restricts Mars to the Southern Counties. So here's hoping for quick victory – and plenty of Mars for everyone – everywhere.
Warner was a classical scholar and this perhaps accounts for the exceptional complexity and interconnections of the family relations in the novel. It is as though that Theban template had been overlaid on Britain at peace in the 1940's. The locale is a village situated near to an aerodrome. For the moment the two are in an uneasy but distant relationship bucolic Feudal contra Futurist, worship of the machine, force and the great organisation which will put everything right. The rector has his own secrets, deep and dark. One of them is that Roy the protagonist and narrator is not his natural son. On Roy's 21st. birthday this information is delivered via a toast. A bizarre lack of tact one might say and there are many such swerves of narrative direction in the book. Kafka has been mentioned as an influence on Warner and that odd normalisation of intense contrasts told as directly as a report from head office has its power.
The aerodrome is a hatchery for Supermen who are beyond morality except the morality of having no morals. In fact we are later told ordinary pilots will no longer be used so the training is more a matter of achieving through indoctrination a certain type. One of the high points for me is the speech to the graduating airmen by the Air Vice-Marshal. It begins:
”Some of you” , said the Air Vice-Marshal, “are still thinking about your parents and your homes. You may be considering who or what your parents are, what are their sources of their incomes, the situations and dimensions of their houses. Please put all that out of your minds directly. For good or evil you are yourselves, poised for a brief and dazzling flash of time between two annihilations. Reflect, please, that 'parenthood', 'ownership', 'locality' are the words of those who stick to the mud of the past to form the fresh deposit of the future. And so is 'marriage'. Those words are without wings. I do not care to hear an airman use them.,
The subtitle of this novel is a love story and that involves Bess and Roy. It does not fly straight and 'happy landings' seem to be out of the question as the Air Ministry take over the village and begin to impose their brand of nihilism. Anybody growing up in the 30's would have had empirical acquaintance of this subreption of society by a plausible future.
I found it an excellent read, a mere 192 pages quite condensed and full of incident, philosophically deep and a sense of the pain and anguish of love when it is committed to another free agent who can betray it.
The BBC did a faithful version of it :
quite good. Some reviews from the Amazon site where new copies are available may be of interest.
"The value of The Aerodrome as literature becomes increasingly apparent at each rereading ... an intensely original work."—Anthony Burgess. "A moral dialogue thrown into narrative form. It is humanity versus power, sprawling fife versus death-dealing regimentation.... A parable worth reading."—New York Times. "The beauty of his prose, unsurpassed by any living English writer, has nothing to do with `fine writing' but springs from a sound moral core and from an intelligence with the keenest edge."—C. Day Lewis.