On The Beach by Nevil Shute

On the Beach cover

On The Beach by Nevil Shute was first published in 1957 and probably you’ve all read it already, but I hadn’t even seen the film (two have been made) and I had no idea what it was about.

Of course it’s about the end of the world – as we know it, and that came as a bit of a shock to me, in fact I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue reading it, but I bashed on anyway and although it’s well written as you would expect of something written by Shute, I did find it a bit of a downer, especially given all the sabre-rattling that’s going on in the world today – and in every direction I look there seem to be unstable leaders.

The story is of course based in Australia where Shute moved to from England. It’s set mainly in and around Melbourne, there’s been a short but catastrophic war culminating in nuclear weapons being used and particularly a cobalt bomb which was designed to cause the maximum nuclear fallout over a large area.

At the beginning of the book most of the inhabitants of Earth are already dead from radiation sickness and the residents of Australia are waiting on the contaminated air to reach them. Everything is running out, people are using horse-power again as there is very little petrol for cars, but most people haven’t really come to terms with the fact that they only have months to live, people are in denial and still make plans for the future. I liked most of the characters and their actions seemed to me to be believable.

On a personal note, I was still at primary school and it was the height of the Cold War when I realised that in the event of a nuclear war the area that I lived in would be first in line for a nuclear strike as I lived close to the nuclear submarine base on the west coast of Scotland, in fact my dad worked there. It didn’t worry me for long though as I thought that it would be an advantage to ‘go’ in a flash so to speak. On The Beach just made me think that I was absolutely right about that.

I read this one for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017.

11 thoughts on “On The Beach by Nevil Shute

  1. I want to read this one. I have not seen the movie but I did know the general story. I enjoyed your thoughts on this book and your personal note at the end.

    • Lisa,
      I nearly gave up when I realised what it was about, but I want to read all of Shute’s books so I thought I might as well bash on with it.

  2. I loved this when I read it in my teens in the late 1960s, but when I re-read it in the early 2000s I was disappointed in the writing, I have to say. But, I saw the film again recently and was so impressed. It is a powerful story – and, unfortunately, too close to the bone today again.

    • Whispering Gums,
      I really must look out for the film then even, maybe by the time I see it the world situation will be a bit better, I live in hope!

  3. I also read this book in my teens – and although the premise of the story remained with me, I’ve often wondered at the fact that at the time it didn’t seem to have any negative impact on me. Perhaps I didn’t fully understand it – or maybe I was simply too far removed from the idea of the end of the world to even consider it a possibility. I wonder how I would respond to it now!

    • Sandra,
      I suppose this book could be read as science-fiction – back in the day, and something that was unlikely ever to happen. It just seems a possibility at the moment!

      • Yes – that makes sense of why I don’t remember being unnerved by it. I was reading a lot of science fiction at that time. Thanks Katrina!

  4. I went through a phase of devouring apocalyptic fiction – this one and Alas, Babylon being the most memorable. The original movie, with Fred Astaire in an unusual role for him, was excellent. Never saw a later version. Always preferred the notion of being at ground zero, “done in a flash” being preferable to the aftermath.

    • Pearl,
      I must look out for that Astaire film. Yes I would far rather get anything over and done with as fast as possible and I’m fairly sure that there never would be a ‘three minute warning’ from the government – what would be the point in that?!

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