on June 6, 2016
Even though from the beginning of the story the reader knows what the final outcome will be it still manages to be an interesting story. However, I can't honestly say that I buy the concept that the inhabitants of Australia, knowing their outcome, would still be as stoic and continue to press on with their daily life as best they can. Electric trains keep their schedule people still go to work all the while knowing that the radiation is drifting to them and their fate is sealed. However it is made clear that in the novel that certain theories exist about radiation by some scientist that say the worst may be over and that does provide some hope to the citizens. However I did find most of the characters being a little too calm about their situation.
Of course that could be Shute's intention. He builds a lot of pathos with the characters because you get to know them. For example the Liaison Officer Holmes has recently had a baby and him his wife lament about the fact that the baby will never get a chance grow up and how unfair that is, especially since the war had nothing to do with them and was started a half a world away. They also decide to plant a garden knowing that they mostly likely not see the full result of their labours, but it something that they had wanted to do and its something they can do together.
There is a lot of intimate introspection like this where Shute focuses on the small stories where the reader is able to relate one to one with the characters. After all, the book begins a year after the war and all the life of the Northern hemisphere is wiped out by the radiation, that's hard concept to digest. By taking it down to the personal level with the characters and seeing it from their perspective makes the story more relatable and even sadder.
Its not all just about sad introspective stories there some good adventures like when the USS Scorpion is sent to look for life in various places and also to investigate a mysterious Morse code they are receiving from the states. Putting aside my reservations about some aspects of the novel I still found to be an interesting and hard to put down. I've also seen the movie based on the novel and that kind of added a visual dimension to this novel.
If you're interested in the On The beach movie it is reasonably close to the book but with the main characters of Commander Towers and Moira Davidson are being played by Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, both of whom are somewhat older than the characters they are suppose to be playing. Same with Fred Astaire, his characters is significantly younger in the novel. If you can get passed that and some other minor plots lines that have been changed the pathos and inevitable sadness of their fate is still there.
Having written this novel in the late 50's its clear that Shute is making a bold statement about the futility of both the nuclear arms and the concept of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent. The novel demonstrates this by having the war started not by the major super powers by a smaller aggressive country. Looking at world events now On The Beach is probably more relevant today then it was back then.
on July 18, 2016
"On The Beach", by Nevil Shute is an amazing book. Unfortunately, this is not "On the Beach". This is an ABRIDGEMENT. The product that Amazon and CreateSpace Publishing is unprofessionally passing off as a classic novel by a great novelist is a version full of typos, grammatical, and spelling mistakes, not to mention that it has been cut to pieces and simplified.
I bought a copy of this book to replace a too well-worn one and was appalled at what I was sent. I ask myself, how many other abridgments of classic novels are being passed off as the real thing by Amazon and CreateSpace Publishing? I edited the typos in this bastardization of "On the Beach", and am sending it back to Amazon for a refund. I did not intend to buy an abridgement, and for anyone who is looking to read this classic novel, I urge you to buy it elsewhere. This version is not worth reading, let alone buying.
on July 15, 2004
A great, simple book very well written and poignant. What's interesting about it is that as we enter the story, the nuclear war that will eventually doom the characters in the story has already occurred and is over. They are simply awaiting the lethal radioactive cloud to move down to the southern hemisphere and begin to kill everyone off. The people carry on their daily lives as if nothing has happened. But we see in several key scenes early in the book how painfully, heartbreakingly aware they really are. And that's the key power to the story. These people know they're doomed but what choice do they have except to continue on with their lives. The most painful scene I found in the book was how the young couple with the baby begin to plan out their garden for the next year knowing full well that they are not going to be around to see it. They're fooling themselves, obviously, but how else to cope with the inevitable.
In the end, the book has the same effect as a movie called "Testament" with Jane Alexander. You'll be depressed and feeling a little scared and hopeless.
This is not light reading.
The basic story is that Albania sends a plane with another country's markings to bomb the U.S. and we retaliate. However this is not a pacifist (don't build bombs book). This is not a sci-fi book. It could be a speculative fiction or just speculative.
The story begins after the war is completed and radiation is now covering the world. Australia is the last place to be covered. You read how different people are about to meat their end, some with hope, others with reckless abandon. Still there are those like the US sub commander Dwight Towers is loyal to his country to the end by not allowing U.S. property in the end to fall into the hands of the Aussies.
The book was written in the Cold War Era environment. So many people think that it is about countries and war; others think this story is some anti war story. The reality is that it is a study of people meeting a sure end and how they react. Other readers will balk at the actions of the people in this story; yet when they meet the same situation we will see how realistic the characters are. Still others will balk at the predictability of the characters. Still this is how many people get over a crisis by being predictable. It is these characteristics that make this novel timeless. Someone else must think so or they would not have made an updated version for our not too distant future.
on April 12, 2014
"On the Beach" is both a book and a movie from 1957 and 1959 respectively. A well crafted movie ideally should be complimentary to the original book, and Stanley Kramer's movie is certainly complimentary. Although this is a book review, it is appropriate in this case however, that a review of the book and the movie together makes any reflection on the ideas within the story richer.
The main story line of "On the Beach" is about the end of all life on earth as a result of radiation poisoning after a disastrous nuclear war in 1964. The obvious message is the folly of nations, armed with weapons that they dare not use and the consequences of using them. The movie pursues that populist angle with the final scene being of a large banner strung over a public square stating "There is still time...brother." The final message that there was still time to address the concerns over nuclear war in the 1950s and 60s is the one that initially received the most publicity.
But, "On the Beach" is more than the threat of nuclear weapons.The story takes place in Melbourne, Australia as a deadly radiation moves slowly, over many months, from the northern hemisphere to the southern, providing time for us to know the characters as they wrestle with the idea of their individual and collective demise. The underlying meanings of "On the Beach" however, are more subtle and timeless than the obvious folly of nuclear war. The title is a metaphor for the good memories the characters take away when reflecting on the final meaning of their lives. Towards the end of the movie there is a scene where one smiling young couple reflects over how they first met on the beach and the joys of love, marriage and parenthood that came from that meeting. Some character's lives are complete, others fall short of their dreams and aspirations, but life is not about quantity or if they had it all or not, it is making the best of the opportunities offered and not crying over the inevitable shortcomings. It is about accepting our lot in life with dignity and self-respect. The double-meaning of the title "On the Beach" is about having lived a good life.
The concerns over nuclear war have faded somewhat today, but "On the Beach" addresses how we meet the timeless issue of death. And that is the lesson of "On the Beach", as all people die. How we face death says something about how we faced life. Throughout the story people continue to go on with their lives and even towards the end, when all hope is lost, they are still tidying up their gardens and arranging things for after they are gone. It is about duty, of self-respect and doing the right thing. One of the main characters, Commander Dwight Towers, is given the stark choice of either spending his final moments comforting, and in the comfort of, the woman he has recently fallen in love with, or fulfilling his duty by scuttling his submarine at sea and ending his own life by going down with his ship. He chooses, in this case, duty. His final act represents how he lived his life and what he saw as the stronger truths to himself, service life, his crew and the family he left behind. He and others in the novel quietly strive to remain true to what was important in their life, even at the end.
That commitment to duty, of being true to how one lives and lived, is reflected in the dignity of how one dies. There is no right answer to the question of what constitutes a dignified death, as no one else truly shares that final moment. Nor, can anyone provide the answer for you. Ultimately, each character in both the book and the movie must find individual dignity on their own terms. Some meet it with their spouse, others alone, some quietly, some with understated defiance, but all manage it with dignity. There are differences in characters and even individual endings between the novel and the movie, but they are minor. In fact the differences in some endings are complimentary as they make the point that various endings are possible and all can still be dignified.
The argument above is not for, or against, the current controversy of assisted suicide to alleviate pain and suffering at the end of life. The message of "On the Beach" is "to thine own self, be true." Read the book, watch the movie. Better yet do both and reflect on the real meaning of a good life.
on July 7, 2004
I'd heard about this book for years; finally got 'round to reading it. A year or so after a nuclear war, fought entirely in the Northern Hemisphere, folks on the southeast coast of Australia await their fate: a radioactive wind carried around the earth.
Shute was not writing high art here: @times it sounds almost like reportage, but he manages to maintain a modicum of suspense throughout the novel by placing his characters in semi-routine situations that are always circumscribed by their finality: this is the last time we will ever...
A bland scientist cuts loose in an annual auto race; a couple spends their last hours together fishing in the mountains; another couple landscapes their yard until they're too weak to stand. The exchange betw. the submarine captain & the escaped crewman Swain is frighteningly unbearable in its blandness: "I know how you feel, sailor," sighs CDR Towers, as Swain chugs across the sub's path in a motor boat, just off the coast of his deserted hometown in Washington State.
On the Beach was a super-quick read: the messages were not hidden but revealed in conversations among the characters. If we had the chance, would we do anything differently? Has anybody recorded a history of this?
The book end with the inevitable, the deaths of all the characters, & it just doesn't matter whether people survive in Tasmania or New Zealand, for their deaths won't be long in coming.
on June 4, 2004
After being forced to read this my junior year of high school in English class, one of my friends hated it so much that he wrote a song called "Nevil Shute Can Kiss My *#&." And my mother was so scarred after seeing the movie version as a young girl that she gets the creeps whenever she hears the song "Waltzing Matilda." Be that as it may, this remains one of my favorite books.
Set in Australia, the book opens with a horrific situation--the rest of the world has been wiped out due to nuclear warfare, and Australians, who were completely innocent in the skirmish which touched off the world's destruction, are the last people alive in the last non-radioactive zone in the world. Unfortunately for them, the winds are slowly carrying radioactive particles further and further into the southern hemisphere, and the residents of the continent are simply waiting for the poison to bring certain death. Depressing? Sure. A chilling warning of what could happen to the human race if just one person pushes that proverbial red button? Absolutely.
Nevil Shute does a great job developing the characters and making you identify with them, from a young married couple with a new baby and a lonely young single woman to an American officer who just happened to be in his submarine with his crew when the war broke out, thus saving their lives and forcing him and his crew to live with the knowledge that everyone they love is gone and their hometowns are uninhabitable. This story brings the reality of nuclear war home, and is as relevant in this day and age as it ever was.
on April 7, 2004
I have read this book twice now - with a space of 14 years in between - and I found I got a lot more out of it and remembered quite a lot from the first time. It was and remains the only book I've ever read that caused me to have tears streaming down my face at the end. The realism with which Shute presents his plot and its concept - the immediate after-math of an atomic/hydrogen war and the slow spreading of a radioactive envelope in the earth's atmosphere toward the Southern Hemisphere - is scary. With the approaching radioactivity comes the DOOM of the main characters of the story who live in Melbourne, Australia and who include among them a displaced U.S. submarine captain. What Shute offers us here is the ultimate "what-if". What if this REALLY happened? How would any human being react if he/she could literally see the End coming and could not stop it? Shute's characters are haunting in that they are so REAL themselves just in the way they lash out in anger and moral injustice or recoil in overwhelming despair or even just succumb to numbing apathy. It is the infinite care and love with which Shute creates and develops them and portrays them to us that makes this not a hysterical sermon but a human story. Then he leaves them to die. As a reader you are devastated because you are left with nothing. Each of the characters in the end has to find their own way to die and the very last one is the one who seemed to have the most life and the most promise and the most vitality. Do I recommend this book? YES. You will never forget it.