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On the Beach by Nevil Shute

On the Beach (original 1957; edition 1998)

by Nevil Shute

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3,5091231,511 (3.86)284
Title:On the Beach
Authors:Nevil Shute
Info:Lightyear Pr (1998), Hardcover, 250 pages
Collections:Your library

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On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957)

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Showing 1-5 of 119 (next | show all)
The setting is 1963 in Melbourne, Australia and its surrounding towns, two years after a nuclear World War III. The radioactive fallout has been moving through the hemisphere killing all living things in its wake. Australia (which didn't participate in the war) and New Zealand are expected to be the last victims. This is an interesting look at how these last survivors cope with, or deny, what's coming and the choices they make about how to live out their last months.

I really enjoyed this book, despite being distracted by the differences between life in 2013 and life as it was known by the author in 1957, when the book was published. Smoking on a submarine for example seemed so odd it completely pulled me out of the story for a bit. I knew nothing of this book when I chose it, expecting something more like A Town Like Alice. Despite my surprise, I found this book worthwhile and will read another Nevil Shute book. His portrayal of people is kind, yet realistic. ( )
  LeslieHurd | Jan 11, 2017 |
There has been a war. The northern hemisphere is a radioactive wasteland. Australia has survivors, but the radiation is heading their way.

I laughed when it talked about making gas being too outrageously expensive to do - It would cost $2.00 a gallon!

What would you do if you knew that come September everyone would be dead? Would go on pretending that it wasn't coming? Where would you want to be at the end? ( )
  nx74defiant | Nov 5, 2016 |
My literary tastes lean more maximalist, and I have a more pessimistic view of humanity, so the fact that I enjoyed this understated novel about the last remaining survivors from a global nuclear apocalypse facing certain death was truly surprising. Like the radioactive dust that's circling the globe in a gentle death vise, Nevil Shute creates a tightly written novel about facing one's inevitable doom with dignity that's no less gripping.

The fate of everyone in On the Beach is pretty much sealed from the get-go, and yet you can't help but root for them and admire their respect for each other and grace in facing the end until the very last page. It makes you think: what would you do if you only had a few more months after some global cataclysm? Would we all slide into one kind of Purge-esque carnal anarchy, or would we keep going about our business, doing the chores, and tending the gardens, and still being neighborly and kind? Shute shows us the possibility of the latter scenario and it's utterly believeable--even to this cynic. Not often you get such a chilling, dark premise in a book, and finish it feeling strangely uplifted. ( )
  gendeg | Oct 13, 2016 |
Haiku Review:

Surely someone in
The last surviving nation
Would have kinky sex?

Like the haiku review? See two others. (Link will be live October 13th, 2016).

*initial thoughts*
I feel like this should have been more compelling than it was. Everyone kind of lived out their lives very dully, which some people would pick that but surely some people would turn into raging sex maniacs or something. I guess I just found the lack of variety of how to live out your last moments to be a bit unlikely. ( )
  gaialover | Oct 9, 2016 |
After loving the character-driven wartime odyssey Pied Piper, I set out in search of more Nevil Shute books. As a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction scenarios, I had already heard of On the Beach and so it seemed like the natural next port-of-call. Unfortunately, however, despite some moments I found it to be rather staid and unimaginative.

In On the Beach, there has been a catastrophic nuclear war – the book was published in 1957 for a generation coming to terms with Mutually Assured Destruction – and the northern hemisphere has been wiped out by the holocaust. The story takes place in Australia, where the radioactive fallout from the northerners' folly is gradually – but inevitably – approaching. We follow a group of characters as we come to terms with their new reality and the two key flaws of the book – critically speaking – result from this.

The first is the characters themselves. Any character-driven story needs, funnily enough, interesting characters to drive the story forward. But none of Shute's in On the Beach leap out. The male ones are interchangeable: I often forgot which one was speaking; their voices and speech patterns are so similar, and half-way through one scene I was surprised when I realized there were three characters in the conversation and not two. The female characters are more distinguishable, but that's because they are more cliché: the scatter-brained housewife and the loose alcoholic. In general, none of the characters really move beyond their initial standpoint and by the end we've witnessed very little growth.

This leads me onto the second flaw, which is that not much happens plot-wise. The blurb of the new Vintage edition of the book emphasises that there is a faint radio signal coming from the United States, but in actuality this only takes up a small portion of the book and comes to nothing. (Side note: I've only just noticed that the front cover of the Vintage edition contains a mushroom cloud above the water. Rather neat.) The majority of the book is just characters milling around waiting for the end. Some are in denial, others pragmatic and stoical (though none, strangely, who come off the rails). There is some dignity and poetry in this – of having "a cup of tea before the dying fire" (pg. 206) – but for the most part it is just mundane. No one really does anything, and many don't even admit that things are even happening, which isn't exactly an exciting thing to read about.

There is, however, some literary yield from this stance. It is often emphasised by Shute that "none of us believe it's ever really going to happen – not to us… Everybody's crazy on that point, one way or another" (pg. 113), and in a way this is the moral of the story. On the Beach is a Cold War cautionary tale, encouraging its 1950s audience not to be complacent about the reality of M.A.D., along with an intermittent anti-war message about the totality of the destruction (at its most explicit on page 40: "We had nothing to do with it. Why should we have to die because other countries nine or ten thousand miles away from us wanted to have a war?"). But not only is the moral rather dated now in the 21st century (at least in its particulars), but it's never really exploited by Shute. For all his skill in prose and in setting, his characters in On the Beach don't come to the fore to really bring his theme to flower. He has a good try regardless, and it is surely an admirable theme, but in actuality it just means everyone is doing ordinary stuff for 300 pages. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Sep 5, 2016 |
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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.
Haiku summary

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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