After leaving Perspins, Roger Wallace becomes a National Service sailor. Denied his preference to work in education he becomes a writer (or “scribes” in naval slang). While the course of his Service life provides the chronological peg on which the narrative is grounded, the main thrusts of the novel are his continuing passion for Gladys and the development of his journey from Christianity to Humanism.
The author ponders earnestly on his philosophical response to pacificism (in relation to the Korean war), homosexuality (as a witness at a Court Martial on board HMS Victory), and above all the basic tenets of the Christian religion. He takes unexpected parts in a marriage ceremony and a funeral. These are brilliantly described, the first hilariously, the second elegiacally.
Throughout Roger alternately pines for Gladys, spends a blissful fortnight with her in North Devon, is cast into despair when she tells him she is to marry another man and, by seeming serendipity, is reunited with her in Surrey when he leaves the navy and buys a small car hire business.
He revisits Perspins to play rugby for the Old Boys and again to seek “Mr. Emerson’s” advice about the Korean war. There are a number of well drawn characters in this volume, notably the splendid Lieutenant George Trelawney, his Commanding Officer on HMS Defiance. Altogether it is a deeper book than its predecessor, entertaining, and most interesting for what it tells of the author’s (or perhaps one should say the central character’s) evolution at a highly formative age.