On The Beach

Author: Nevil Shute
Publisher: Pan
Star Rating: 5/5
Date Read: February 24th to 28th, 2014
When it comes to the end of the world books and movies, you don’t really hear a lot about Australia. Everyone’s so worried about the US and Europe that nobody thinks of us down here in little old Australia. On The Beach shows what happens to Australia when the rest of the world is dying out.

After radioactively bombing the hell out of each other, China, Russia, America and the rest of the northern hemisphere are no more. As the radioactive poisoning drifts southward, infecting the entire world, the last major city existing is Melbourne, Australia, where life is continuing as normal for its inhabitants who just can’t accept that the end of the world is coming to them. So they keep going to work and planting gardens and thinking about next month, next season, next year – even when, in their hearts, they know their time is limited, they just carry on. Captain Towers plans to go home to his wife and children in America when his deployment is up, the Holmes’ plan their garden they won’t be around to see, Moira Davidson takes a typing course she won’t use. No one wants to face what’s coming to them, so they just live their lives as normally as they can.

This is what got to me the most. There was no rioting, no stealing from each other, nothing untoward because there was just nothing the people could do but help each other through to the end. From the farmer who offered to take Mary Holmes milk while her husband Peter was at sea, to Moira Davidson who kept a lonely American sailor company through his last months when he was separated from his family – everyone did what they could to help their neighbour. And if we (I don’t mean ‘we’ the Australians but ‘we’ as the human race) were ever arrogant enough to get ourselves in a position that meant the extermination of life on Earth, I would hope that this is what would happen. That we wouldn’t turn against each other, or fight for the last of the supplies, but support each other through to the end.

There was something about the simple tone of this novel, and the quiet determination of the people to just live through one more day until they couldn’t anymore that was incredibly touching. It is a very bleak and worrying vision of the future. It wore something down in me just thinking of how it would be, knowing you and everyone else left on Earth had only a week or so to live. Feeling yourself getting sick, and knowing that you were the last of the human race. The novel is simply about the death of the human race and the T.S. Eliot quote in the front of the book is extremely fitting: This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.

This book is an Australian classic that we don’t talk about enough.


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