The SAN FELIX, an overloaded, refugee-packed freighter is sunk - whether by torpedo from a submarine or by hitting a drifting mine is unclear - in the Indian Ocean after escaping the Feb. 1942 fall of Singapore to the Japanese. Four survivors (a mysterious woman, two English passengers and the ship's mulatto purser) find their way out of the water and onto a wooden liferaft which becomes their home for many weeks before drifting to a deserted island. After many misadventures the woman and the two English men are rescued. The survivors part with a vow to go their separate ways and not meet in the future. Years later a series of enigmatic messages are posted in the announcements section of the London Daily Telegraph and the three survivors are forced to gather together one last time. At that meeting it is revealed that the mysterious young woman (with whom one of the men had fallen in love) was a nun, something which she had concealed from them all the time that they were adrift at sea.
Scott's novel is an engaging one, full of adventure, drama and a sweet romance of sorts. Early on in the novel his descriptions of the approaching fall of Singapore are superb, as are later descriptions of the ill-fated SAN FELIX filled to the bursting point with the volatile mix of over 1,000 fear-maddened refugees, inefficient (and venial officers) and an unhappy, mutinous lascar crew. The four survivors' weeks adrift on the liferaft are vividly described as Scott probes the aspects of group - and individual - psychology which keep the men and woman alive. Of particular note is his examination of the deep-felt, casual racism that motivates one of the English men, a racism that leads inevitably to the death of the mulatto purser.
Finally, it should be noted that the novel's conceit is that it is based on a true story, and that the novel was prompted by a very real series of newspaper announcements which had appeared in the London Daily Telegraph between March and May 1951. Whether true or not, this lends a sense of mystery to Scott's dramatic and engaging story.
In 1957 the novel was made into the affecting, bittersweet film "Sea Wife" starring Richard Burton and a very young (and very beautiful) Joan Collins.