Friday, May 24, 2013

Victory Book Club: On the Beach by Nevil Shute, 1957


As I started reading On The Beach I was pretty confused. The novel has a copyright date of 1957, and the story was taking place between 1961 and 1963. It also spoke of a war that wasn’t World War II, but didn’t seem to be Korea, Vietnam or the Cold War either. Since I had an older library copy, there was no jacket with a synopsis. After reading a quick online summary, I realized I was reading a work of fiction about World War III with the main players being China, Russia, England, and the US.
The Northern Hemisphere has been wiped out due to nuclear war. No one is sure how many bombs were dropped over a month long battle, but the Southern Hemisphere lives in fear of when the radiation cloud will reach them.

Of the United States Navy, two ships remain. One is off the Atlantic coast of South America and the USS Scorpion is in Australia. Both are submarines and will deploy on missions along the US coast, seeking signs of life. Captain Dwight Towers is the captain of the Scorpion, and has Lieutenant Peter Holmes of the Royal Australian Navy working with him during his stay down under.
The Lieutenant invites Captain Towers to his home for the weekend, and spends some time with his wife Mary, baby Jennifer and friend Moira Davidson. They enjoy the beach, sailing and a dinner party, all while wondering how long it will take for the nuclear devastation to reach them and how long before their inevitable death.
Each character reacts differently to the fact that they will eventually die. Captain Towers goes on like nothing has changed, and runs the US Navy by the books without alcohol on board or taking liberties in port. Others like Moira live more recklessly, taking advantage of their last months, weeks and days. No one corrects the other, because they know they must handle the impending death of mankind in a way that will get them through it. In the end every character has something in common; a little red box with two white pills.
On The Beach is truly riveting. The story is very human and shows the good and bad side of people awaiting their death over events they had no control of. I found myself looking up time periods, locations and technological facts to better understand Shute’s fictional world. I wish there had been a map in the cover of the book, but since it was an older library copy, maybe more recently published copies do? Although On the Beach is classified as Science Fiction, give it a chance. I’m really glad I did.

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  1. Thanks for this not a sci fi girl...I'm an English Lit major so I won't say I'm sort of a lit purist...but I sort of am.

    This is a good reminder to open myself up to all genres!

    Popping over from the EBT...happy Friday!

    1. I hear you Melissa - I've got my BA in English Lit so it is hard to stray!


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