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On the Beach by Nevil Shute

On the Beach (original 1957; edition 1998)

by Nevil Shute

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3,2011011,740 (3.85)255
Title:On the Beach
Authors:Nevil Shute
Info:Lightyear Pr (1998), Hardcover, 250 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957)

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» See also 255 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
After WW3, a group of Australians wait patiently for the radiation cloud, which has killed everyone else on the planet, to kill them too. ( )
  jrthebutler | Sep 23, 2015 |
An interesting comparison with Day of the Triffids, which goes through contortions to reassure the reader that all will be well post-apocalypse, just watch out for the shrubbery. This revels in the crushing bleakness of a doomed society, where everyone is just rearranging the deckchairs as the boat goes down, and mentally working out how they're going to commit suicide. ( )
  adzebill | Sep 12, 2015 |
Six-word review: Disturbing apocalyptic vision still delivers chills.

Extended review:

Like a number of other novels of Nevil Shute, On the Beach is a moving tale of ordinary people jolted out of the normal course of their lives and into something--this particular something very dark and troubling--that they must somehow face and cope with.

Here, the Northern Hemisphere has been obliterated by nuclear war and its radioactive fallout, and weather patterns are inevitably carrying the lethal airborne particles southward. Australia is among the last places to be visited by the deadly cloud.

The main characters are an Australian naval officer and his wife, an American captain of a submarine, and a young woman he meets in Melbourne. The story is set in 1963, a few years into the future from the time of its publication in 1957. I was a young schoolchild in 1957, and I remember having air raid drills in school--duck and cover, file out of the classroom in an orderly fashion and stand against your locker, get under something. Civil defense sirens were tested every week in our city, and every week the radio broadcast a test of a civil defense alert that would sound in the event of an emergency. In 1957, before Sputnik, before escalation of the war in Vietnam, before the Cuban missile crisis, there was the terror of the Cold War. Shute's imagined eruption of a third world war and its aftermath must have been all too plausible to those who had lived through World War II and found that the hoped-for era of peace had been dashed on the rocks of international politics.

More than half a century later, it still resounds with a chilling relevance. At a time when the news is full of panicky, overreactive shootings of civilians by cops, of cops by civilians, and of civilians by civilians, it's easy enough to envision a chain of major events set off by accident, a series of mistakes compounding, with irrecoverable, irreversible global consequences. In the end, everybody pays--at the mercy of a natural process after all.

What's so striking about this novelist's depiction of a world in its final stages is the relative calm of those who are facing it. There is little in the way of hysteria, and even denial seems for most to be a deliberate, conscious turning away from awareness rather than an inability to acknowledge what is about to occur. Seeming like madness at first, denial eventually becomes a saving grace. People appear to be able to hold two incompatible notions at the same time, acting as if the one were true even as they recognize the other.

An important theme is the stabilizing effect of routine and structure. This appears to hold true across all social classes, from the habits of the distinguished retired gentlemen at the club to the tram driver who keeps showing up for work. Taking courses in skills that they will never use, harrowing fields that will never be planted, following the rules of professional conduct to the last even when there will never be any call to answer for breaking them: abiding within these principles points to the strength of an inner moral sensibility and the compelling power of human dignity that transcend the eradication of everything we are. There is no comforting sense that life goes on and that someone will remember us; there is no assurance of any future beyond one's own consciousness. And yet even on the last day someone is still buying garden furniture and putting out plantings that will bloom in the spring.

That made some sense to me. I recalled that on the morning of 9/11/2001, I heard the news of the attacks in New York and Washington as I was getting ready for work on the West Coast. That morning my department director came around to our cubicles to see that everyone was okay. He told me, "Go home if that's what you need to do to take care of yourself." I said, "No, I need to be here doing normal stuff." Sticking to routine seemed to be a refuge, the closest thing to a feeling of safety that I could embrace on that horrifying day.

Shute's gift for making his settings compellingly vivid, supported by technical details that make his stories sound like conscientiously recorded histories, provides a solid grounding in authenticity. As a result his fictions have the ring of truth even when impossibly set in a future time. This, his best-known novel, allows us to both picture and ponder the unthinkable, and the hope it leaves with us is that even in the face of the ultimate disaster our humanity might be the last thing to go.

The novel doesn't explain the title, but Wikipedia does: the phrase "on the beach" is a Royal Navy term that means "retired from the Service." ( )
8 vote Meredy | Sep 5, 2015 |
This book written in 1957, is a futuristic, dystopic, post apocalyptic story set in 1963. Even though it really is "history" now, this book reflects the thoughts of the time following the explosion of nuclear bombs at the end of WWII and the following cold war and it could have really happened just the way Nevil Shute explains it. There is a short war which has everyone blowing up Cobalt bombs all over the northern hemisphere and all have died in the north. The radiation is creeping into the southern hemisphere. I thought this one was going to end well, I thought I had read that in someone's review. But no, this is a heartbreaking, tear wrenching story of the end of human life. The author is a little bit optimistic that human nature will be strong and good as it faces its demise. I liked how he projects hope even in the absence of hope. I think human nature does like to cling to hope in most cases and use denial to avoid thinking about the bad. ( )
  Kristelh | Jun 27, 2015 |
I listened to this on Radio 4 recently and decided to re-read the book. It's very dated, and I'm sure people nowadays wouldn't react in such a stiff upper lip way - you'd get a whole lot of suicides as soon as people realised death was inevitable and probably lots of rioting. And I'm not so sure that Australia would manage to stay out of a global nuclear war. A very good read though. ( )
  mlfhlibrarian | Apr 30, 2015 |
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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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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.
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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."
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 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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