On The Beach by Nevil Shute

On the BeachOn the Beach by Nevil Shute

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a nuclear war, the remainder of the world survive as long as they can. Spoiler: it’s not very long. Quite a sad book. Even more sad when you think that it could actually happen.

WARNING: Review Contains Minor Spoilers

The nuclear war seemed to take place almost by accident, as the first missiles that came from (apparently) Albania were thought to have come from elsewhere, and thereby causing various nations to attack each other following this snowball of misunderstandings. Again, with the current political climate, this also seems scarily possible.

The fallout from the nuclear bombs has rendered the entire northern hemisphere uninhabitable. The survivors all flee to the southern colonies, particularly Australia, where this novel is set. Slowly but surely the radioactivity is spreading southwards. The human race is frankly doomed, and those that remain deal with the coming definitive end of the world in their own ways. The character of Moira understandably comments that “the people are slowly going mad” and behave either as if the coming tragedy is not going to happen, or they are trying to use up the remaining resources (such as fuel for motor vehicles, or rare alcoholic beverages!) as fast as they can.

The last remaining operational US submarine is sent on a few final missions to test scientific theories that there may be survivors elsewhere, or that the radioactivity may be decreasing in some areas. The commander of the submarine, Dwight Towers finds some respite from thoughts of his wife and children with his new friends Peter Holmes and his wife Mary, their friend Moira Davidson, and scientist John Osborne.

Dealing primarily with the characters and their mental states, more than the environmental disaster itself, it’s an example of how humans may behave in the face of the worst possible outcome of war. Haunting.

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