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On the beach by Nevil Shute
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On the beach (original 1957; edition 1966)

by Nevil Shute

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3,095911,832 (3.85)217
Member:sallysetsforth
Title:On the beach
Authors:Nevil Shute
Info:Pan Books (1966), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library, Read, Second-hand, Storage
Rating:
Tags:Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Science Fiction, Australian Fiction, Setting Australia

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On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957)

Recently added byBlue56, private library, evening, b00kw0rm69, shantedze, MaraBlaise, otikhonova
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» See also 217 mentions

English (87)  Danish (3)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (91)
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
It’s a long time since I last read this book and I’m afraid it’s dated quite a bit and I found it even more unappealing this time round. I think its traction is the idea behind the book, the idea of people waiting with the certain knowledge that before long they’ll be dying of radiation just as everyone in the northern hemisphere has. This foundation for the novel naturally has some sort of macabre appeal to us all with the possibility of a nuclear war still very much there, not to mention the growing certainty that we are destroying ourselves through our inability to take the necessary measures to combat climate change.

I feel, though, that the characterisation is rather wooden. Moira is the highly-strung but fundamentally decent young woman, Robert the reliable husband and naval officer and Dwight the deep-feeling, bereaved American. There wasn’t anything in these people to engage the reader, especially as Shute tends to skate along the surface, the characters’ thoughts emerging only through what they say to each other rather than Shute giving us more direct insights into their thinking. He obviously went for the sentimental quite often, for example having both Peter and Mary and Dwight talking about a future that they know won’t happen. This didn’t make it more poignant for me but more contrived.

Plot-wise there wasn’t a lot driving this book which might seem contradictory when you think it’s covering the end of the world for humans but the forays in the submarine, starting with the one to South Australia and then up the Queensland coast are just mundane. And having various characters tell other characters about the trips makes it very repetitive.

I suppose some of the interest today is the way it may give us a glimpse of Australian values in the mid 1950s although I wonder how accurate a glimpse this is. For example, Moira’s mother talks of her grandfather settling in Australia so she’s a third generation Australian yet she talks of visiting England as ‘going home’. And then there’s the sexism with Peter having to explain to his wife that they’re all going to die, something any half-intelligent human would have understood ages ago. But what does Mary say when he shows her the pill she can take when the radiation sickness sets in? ‘Who will look after Jennifer [the baby]?’ And when told the baby will die too, not being immune to the radiation, she exclaims ‘That’s beastly!’ as if she hadn’t realised this already. And why might her husband not be there at the end? because he’s off in a submarine on a totally useless expedition, something he’s very pleased to be doing. Then there’s the doctor who’s operating on a woman to give her a few extra years of life even though they’ve all got only three months –and even though Dwight buys presents for his family, he still says the doctor’s crazy. So, these characters are gormless, unbelievably deluded and have questionable priorities, not what Shute intended the reader to think. Put it this way, his theory that just about all people would make plans for a future that they know doesn’t exist stretches my credulity. The only thing I liked in Shute’s philosophy was that the authorities were giving out suicide tablets so that people wouldn’t suffer. I wish they’d get around to doing that now for terminally ill people.
Notwithstanding all I’ve written, the ending is inevitably poignant even if Shute doesn’t manage it that skilfully. For example, when Peter kills his baby, Shute simply writes ‘He gave the baby the injection in the arm’ and that’s it – no reaction is mentioned. The fact that Shute refers to the baby, Jennifer, as ‘it’ most of the time perhaps shouldn’t make it surprising that he spares no words for her death. ( )
  evening | Dec 16, 2014 |
Really recommend to read it! Interesting plot, deep characters, captures your attention and doesn't let go. BTW, while I was reading, I thought up to the end, that the finale would be totally different. But what can I say, this is the world of the author. The book is beautful. ( )
  otikhonova | Dec 8, 2014 |
Part of my ongoing "I read it years ago so I'll read it again" phase. I liked it.
Very low key, but none the worse for that. Other reviewers have said it's unrealistic, but I don't think that's the point. The destruction of all life by the military powers of the northern hemisphere is the point. The rest is one way of looking at the consequences, and not a bad one at that. Also, the final couple of chapters are very moving, I think. ( )
  ghostdog801 | Nov 25, 2014 |
It's not a science-fiction book, it's a nightmare! ( )
  mariusgm | Sep 12, 2014 |
Well written & so plausible that it's scary, it's also survived the test of time very well. Written over 50 years ago in 1957 by engineer Nevel Shute Norman, an engineer who owned a firm that made secret stuff for the British government, it amazed me by how the politics & cause of the war are still so possible.

The book follows about 6 people for the last 6 months of their lives. There is no explicit sex or violence. The northern hemisphere has been turned into a radioactive wasteland & the radioactivity is slowly moving south. Australia has about 6 months to live & they know it. They keep their civilization going. No 'Mad Max' scenarios. Just law abiding folks who know the end is coming.

It's fantastic & horrifying & depressing, but also neat on several levels. Shute shows us people at their very best after the very worst has happened. The coping mechanisms they use & the little problems they have & overcome. it's quite a fantastic journey & well worth the time to read.

I've never seen either film made from the book & don't think I care to since they screwed up the endings according to Wikipedia. ( )
1 vote jimmaclachlan | Aug 18, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nevil Shuteprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
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Lieutenant Commander Peter Holmes of the Royal Australian Navy woke soon after dawn.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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."
THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:26 -0400)

(see all 4 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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