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On the beach by Nevil Shute

On the beach (original 1957; edition 1966)

by Nevil Shute

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3,5791281,473 (3.86)293
Title:On the beach
Authors:Nevil Shute
Info:Pan Books (1966), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library, Read, Second-hand, Storage
Tags:Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Science Fiction, Australian Fiction, Setting Australia

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On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957)

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» See also 293 mentions

English (124)  Danish (3)  Hebrew (1)  All (128)
Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
Warning: this book is bleak. And it doesn't get better. You will get fooled into hoping for a happy ending at various points in this book, but you will be wrong. It will end terribly. I think it's best to accept that before you start. If you can accept that, the book holds a myriad of treats for the reader: it's captivating, thought-provoking, and interesting reading. The prose style is mid-century. The dialogue is whip-smart and often worth re-reading. The characters are fully fleshed and fascinating. But it's so damn bleak. The main question it left me with was this: what would I do with my life if I knew I, and everyone I know, would die in 6 months from radiation poisoning? How do you structure your life when you know it will end soon? Questions worth thinking about; worth building your life around. An excellently written book, but just so damn bleak.
  wintersdoor | Jul 2, 2017 |
In this classic 1957 novel, humanity has played a game of global thermonuclear war, and everybody has lost. Everybody. Now, in Australia, the last (temporary) survivors go about their lives knowing that very soon the wind will shift, the fallout from a conflict they had nothing to do with will reach them, and they, too, will die. They approach this ending with a mixture of fatalism and denial, and, if those things fail, large quantities of alcohol.

I first read this as a teenager, in the 1980s. I didn't remember anything about the details of the story or the characters, but I have never, ever forgotten the feeling of it, the bleak, oppressive hopelessness of it all. Well, I don't suppose I could have; it's a feeling that cropped up a lot in my nightmares in those days when Mutually Assured Destruction was the law of the land.

Reading this book now is not quite the unbearably harrowing experience that it was back then, when some part of me genuinely believed that the kind of events it describes were not just possible, but a little too likely. And I'm glad of that. It's not something I'm eager to relive. But even now, man, it still hits hard.

It almost seems like it shouldn't. Shute's writing isn't anything special, and features a few stylistic quirks that don't exactly thrill me, starting with his weird refusal to use a scene break when he switches place and POV. And I don't truly believe that people would react to a situation like this exactly the way that the characters in this book do. But none of that matters, because it works. It works distressingly well. The understated, matter-of-fact way that Shute and his characters approach the end of the world is infinitely more devastating than any amount of angsty hair-tearing could ever possibly be. Mostly it's tiny little details that got me, that snuck up on me and kicked me in the heart. But there are a lot of those. Ultimately, perhaps, the entire novel is made up of them. Just one small, subtly heartbreaking detail after another, on and on, until there aren't any more left, ever.

Yeah, it's going to take a while for me to recover from this one. Although, now that I think about it, I'm not sure I ever actually recovered from it the first time.

Rating: I don't think I can rate anything that wrecked me this thoroughly anything less than a 5/5. I sort of feel like maybe I ought to. But I can't. ( )
6 vote bragan | Jun 16, 2017 |
Relentlessly depressing. The question of inevitable destruction: what do humans do? Like many novels in this genre, you need to be in the right space emotionally to process this story as intended. ( )
  sparemethecensor | Jun 3, 2017 |
In his book Rumors of War and Infernal Machines, Charles Gannon argues that "the discourse of nuclear literature has traditionally relied upon images because a personally meaningful quantitative assessment of the bomb’s annihilatory powers is impossible. Its size dwarfs and makes mute any discursive attempt to establish a connection between individual experience and the overwhelming total reality of a nuclear explosion." I definitely think this is true when it comes to On the Beach. It's the images that stuck with me between when I read this in high school (for class), reread it in college (for myself), and rereread it to teach it: the cloud of radioactive particles drifting south, the empty cities of North America, the seaman going out for one last fishing trip, the roads taken back over by horses. Shute's perspective on nuclear annihilation is oddly beautiful: even while nuclear war comes from the worst parts of our nature, he uses it to shine a light on our best parts. Everyone in this book does their duty up to the end, even those who didn't have any kind of duty to begin with. I started to cry when I read the last chapter, and that's the first time I've cried at a book in a long while. We no longer fear nuclear war the way we did in 1957, but the book is still a testament to how we all ought to confront death.
2 vote Stevil2001 | Mar 31, 2017 |
In Australia, residents await a wave of radiation that’s slowly been making its way south after the rest of the world participated in a nuclear World War III. Although the basis for the story is bleak, the humanity of the details makes this an incredibly personal read. It’s not about the bombs and the battles; it’s about the quiet personal moments between spouses and friends as they decide what to do with their remaining months of life.

There’s poignancy in the futility of the little things, planting a garden, sewing a button and a jacket. Though there is technically no point in talking about the future, people can’t seem to help themselves. They worry about their children’s teething issues even though there’s a much worse fate in store for them.

Most people continue to do the things that they love. I think what struck me the most about this book was the civility of people even though they knew what was coming. There was no murder and looting, instead the majority of the people continue their lives as normal, focusing a little more on family and leisure than they would have in everyday life. They knew it was coming, but that didn't change who they were as people. There were a few people who did things a bit more extreme, like racing at top speeds, because they had nothing to lose, but even those people did it in a structured way. The funny thing is, even though they know it’s the end of the world, they can’t help succumbing to normal things like falling in love.

BOTTOM LINE: Beautiful and heartbreaking, this classic provides a look at society on the brink of extension. It took me a minute to embrace the style of storytelling, which felt a bit stilted, but after that I was sucked in.

“If what they say is right we're none of us going to have time to do all that we planned to do. But we can keep on doing it as long as we can.” ( )
1 vote bookworm12 | Mar 2, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nevil Shuteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river...

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

--T.S. Eliot
First words
Lieutenant Commander Peter Holmes of the Royal Australian Navy woke soon after dawn.
"I couldn't bear to - to just stop doing things and do nothing. You might as well die now and get it over." ... "I'd like to do things right, up to the end."
As time passed, the radioactivity would pass also ... these streets and houses would be habitable again ... The human race was to be wiped out and the world made clean again for wiser occupants."
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Book description
A very serious book, intending to give warning - how easily such total international destruction could happen, and how catastrophic the consequences. Portrays the last living humans, in Australia, awaiting their certain approaching end.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345311485, Mass Market Paperback)

"The most shocking fiction I have read in years. What is shocking about it is both the idea and the sheer imaginative brilliance with which Mr. Shute brings it off."
They are the last generation, the innocent victims of an accidental war, living out their last days, making do with what they have, hoping for a miracle. As the deadly rain moves ever closer, the world as we know it winds toward an inevitable end....

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:44 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A novel about the survivors of an atomic war, who face an inevitable end as radiation poisoning moves toward Australia from the North. The most shocking fiction I have read in years. What is shocking about it is both the idea and the sheer imaginative brilliance with which Mr. Shute brings it off. They are the last generation, the innocent victims of an accidental war, living out their last days, making do with what they have, hoping for a miracle.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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