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On the Beach
Geschreven door Nevil Shute
Geplaatst op 09-09-2021 om 11:42

Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, originally published in 1957, is a post-apocalyptic novel which takes place in Melbourne, Australia a year or so after a nuclear World War III. This final world war was so devastating that radioactive clouds are slowly traveling the earth, and killing all people and animals in its wake. Due to some (probably not very) complicated weather and wind pattern science, Australia and it’s surrounding islands are just about the last inhabited places to be affected by the radioactivity. And this is where the story takes place; the final months, weeks and days of some of the last people on earth.

Remember the T.S.Elliot poem which ends with the statement that the world will end, “not with a bang but a whimper”? Apparently Shute agrees. Scientists have predicted the approximate month when the radioactivity will reach Melbourne. The people we meet all very quietly go about their days, doing what they love to do, or what they must do. Although there is a bit more drinking, chaos does not ensue. Looting, theft, vandalism or any other sort of crime is not on the rise. Doctors continue to perform lifesaving (and life extending) surgery. Occasionally people will make statements such as, “It won’t be long now” and “We all have to go sometime, only now we know when that sometime will be” But for the most part, people in Shute’s novel live their remaining time in a state of …denial? Forced ignorant bliss? They talk about what will happen with their garden, cars, children, and jobs in the future even though there is clearly no future.

“Mary looked at her gratefully. “Well, that’s what I think. I mean, I couldn’t bear to – to just stop doing things and do nothing. You might as well die now and get it over.”
Moira nodded. “If what they say is right, we’re none of us going to have time to do all that we planned to do. But we can keep on doing it as long as we can.”

But that is all any of us can do under the best of circumstances, right? Granted, Shute chose to not write about religion, the breakdown of society, or the very American notion of “take this job and shove it” with the end of the world approaching. Even so, if you do what you love every day, why change that when your days start to quickly dwindle away? I found this novel to be a commentary on everyday life as much as anything else.

Finally, many reviewers have commented on what a nice, well behaved apocalypse Shute has envisioned. But I don’t believe this means his scenario is necessarily incorrect. After all, remember the five stages of grief? In case you don’t, the first one is denial. Clearly, you and I and anyone else reading this book, learning about the end of the world and contemplating our own mortality are going to freak out a little bit. On the Beach takes place a year (or two?) after a brief nuclear war. Shute’s characters have had time to work through their denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. We meet them as they reach the final stage of grief, which is acceptance.

On the Beach is heartbreakingly sad. Not so much in the where-is-the-box-of-tissues way, but in a way that affects you quite subtly throughout and long afterwards. I loved the characters in this story, the relationships, and the way people chose to face their deaths and resolve their lives. This is a book I most definitely recommend.