Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review- On the Beach by Neville Shute

Published in 1957 this book is about the near future after a World War 3 in which the major powers of the Northern hemisphere have obliterated each other with nuclear bombs. The radioactive waste is gradually coming south with the wind currents and this book tells the story of people living in Melbourne, Australia who know they will be the last major city on the earth.
I loved the premise of the book, a large 'what if?' scenario that makes you wonder what you would do if you knew you and everyone on earth would be dead in a matter of months. With an American submarine commander and his Australian liaison we get to see glimpses of decimated and empty American shores where they hopefully call out announcements to check for survivors.

Spoilers ahead!

While I loved the premise I didn't like the uniformity of everyone's solution to the 'what if' scenario. Apart from an initial increase in partying, pretty much everyone just continued on with their lives; making plans for their garden, sowing the field for the next year's harvest, or going to school to learn to type. While I have no doubt that the majority of people would just consume themselves with self-denial and continue on I'm sure that at least a handful of people would try and do -something-, anything. Like attempt to make a survival bunker underground and prep it so it will last until the radioactive half-life is through. I would expect a brash of suicides as soon as the news hits. I also expect there would be a religious revival and people preaching about the end of days. Just something different instead of everyone passively denying the truth until they're half-dead. One character somewhat did this by taking up race car driving near the end but he was the only one, and I'm a little disappointed he didn't die driving his car. I did, however, like that they commented upon the nonsensical actions of others and some then recognized they each had their own form of craziness.
I absolutely HATED the women in this book. Perhaps it was just typical portrayal of women in the 50s but they annoyed the hell out of me. Little, frivolous, emotional, irrational twats the lot of them. Mary was the worse of them. I just wanted to reach into the book and slap her. Self-denial can be a powerful thing but hers seemed coupled with an intense stupidity as well.
This book had a weird sort of atmosphere to it which was done well. Most post-apocalyptic books have some sort of hope in them, a vague light for the future but not this one. While the submarine was on missions around North America I keep expecting them to find something or someone but there wasn't anyone to find. Humanity was truly and completely obliterated. It's quite depressing to think about really. But I have to look on the bright side and think that nature will eventually come back and reclaim everything.

What would I do? Part of me says I would try and get with a group to build a sort of underground compound to survive in but I'm not sure if I'd really want to live 5-20 years underground. When this book was written it would have been technologically impossible to complete that in 6 months so if I were a character in this novel I would probably spend my time reading until the sickness hit the town and then off myself gloriously before I got sick.

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
-T.S Eliot

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