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On the Beach [Reading] ➸ On the Beach By Nevil Shute – Thomashillier.co.uk After a nuclear World War III has destroyed most of the globe, the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to eve After a nuclear World War III has destroyed most of the globe, the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to everyone in its path Among them is an American submarine captain struggling to resist the knowledge that his wife and children in the United States must be dead Then a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from somewhere near Seattle, and Captain Towers must lead his submarine crew on a bleak tour of the ruined world in a On the Kindle - desperate search for signs of life On the Beach is a remarkably convincing portrait of how ordinary people might face the most unimaginable nightmare.


10 thoughts on “On the Beach

  1. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    “It's not the end of the world at all, he said. It's only the end for us. The world will go on just the same, only we shan't be in it. I dare say it will get along all right without us.”

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    An Instructional Manual from 1951 on what to do in the event of an A-Bomb attack.

    On the Beach was published in 1957, but the novel is set in what was then the near future of 1963. Those years between 1957-1963 proved to be tumultuous years indeed. When I checked this book out of the library, the librarian, the same one who gave me such good material for my In Cold Blood review, said that this book terrified her, not because of the horrifying circumstances in the book, but the plodding calmness of the characters.

    I was intrigued.

    I wanted to ask what it was like to have read this book in 1957, but that is a rather delicate question to a woman of an indeterminate age. Luckily she bailed me out and told me she read the book much later, but still while we were up to our eyeballs in the Cold War. My Father has always said he has never been more afraid of the World Ending than in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My bellwether librarian agreed that she remembered how difficult it was for everyone to go about their regular business with the oppressive presence of the eminent demise of civilization looming over their lives. (I paraphrase.)

    I still can’t quite peg her age. I could dig around a bit and probably discover her birth date, but then that wouldn’t be very sporting of me now would it?

    So it is the end of the world.

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    John Riordan comic strip.

    ”In the last of meeting places
    We grope together
    And avoid speech
    Gathered on this beach of the tumid river…

    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but with a whimper.

    T. S. Eliot


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    Ok...so, Nevil Shute has the world ending with Albania attacking Italy. Egypt then bombed the United States and the United Kingdom. NATO bombed the Soviet Union because the planes used by the Egyptians were Soviet made. The Soviets bomb China because of Chinese attacks on their border. All of this bombing...well...is nuclear infused with cobalt to insure the maximum amount of radiation fallout. So those countries that were not involved in World War III, are fully involved in the dying part of the war.

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    I glanced through some other reviews of this book. The people who didn’t like this book were looking for the standard apocalyptic novel with desperate people fleeing in front of the radiation (zombies, tidal wave, Ebola etc) hoping to live days longer or maybe even hoping for a reprieve. They wanted people clinging to every last drop of their remaining existence. I would guess that the book would have been more fulfilling for them if a pocket of those people had found a way to survive thus leaving them with some hope that they too could be among the survivors.

    This isn’t that kind of book. I’m sure there were people fleeing South, but Shute focuses on the people who stay in Melbourne. The people who are measuring their lifespan in days and minutes as word arrives of radiation sickness three hundred miles away, one hundred miles away.

    Dwight Towers, commander of probably the last remaining operational American submarine, has attached his vessel to the Australian Navy. He has a wife and kids in the United States. He is a practical man who knows logically they are dead, but he continues to think about them and talk about them as if they are alive. He meets Moira Davidson who drinks brandy around the clock, loses her top while swimming (see how fun she is!), and is coming to terms with the fact that she is never going to get married or do any of the things she hasn’t even thought of yet.

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    1959 movie poster

    John Osborne is a scientist who has been attached as a liaison officer to the USS Scorpion. Shute was an aeronautical engineer by trade. His love for machines comes out in the Osborne character. John finds a Ferrari and buys it for pennies on the dollars, even for that price it seems like an act of pure lunacy, but he has always wanted to race cars and has a stash of fuel that will make that dream come true. He organizes the final Australian Grand Prix and so many drivers come out of the woodwork that they have to organize heats to determine the drivers for the final race.

    Peter Holmes is a lieutenant commander in the Australian Navy, receiving promotions so quickly due to resignations that he will soon be an admiral. He has a wife, Mary, and a daughter. He cuts down trees and expands the flower and vegetable garden. It gives Mary something to do, something to think about other than winds of death. Moria is discussing the strangeness of planting a garden with Dwight.

    “Someone’s crazy,” she said quietly. “Is it me or them?”
    “Why do you say that?”
    “They won’t be here in six months’ time. I won’t be here. You won’t be here. They wont’ want any vegetables next year.”

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    There are old men at the Gentlemen’s Club slowly depleting the last 100 bottles of port. There are debates about whether it is ethical to move the fishing season up. There are people still going to school trying to finish course work. The people who stay are trying to be as productive with their lives as if a normal life span was still stretching out before them. ”Typically for a Shute novel, the characters avoid expressing intense emotions and do not mope or indulge in self-pity. Some reviewers thought the characters were wooden. I found the calmness of the people populating this novel more terrifying than if they had been fleeing for their lives. There was a part of me that wanted to go shake some sense into them and extort them to help me come up with a plan, but as I started to accept the circumstances I realized that the only sane course was the course they were already on.

    Do you want to die in a tent surrounded by people you don’t know, going hungry more than likely; and yet, as doomed as if you’d stayed in your home surrounded by your friends and family? Do you want to take the chance that you will survive the apocalypse? I say put on a pot of tea, keep the bourbon close to hand, and finally finish War and Peace. Maybe there is even time for a quick nap in the hammock with the sun on my toes and bees buzzing by my ear.

    A fascinating, historical look back to when the threat of nuclear war hung like a shadow around the sun.

    ***4.25 out of 5 stars***

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  2. karen karen says:

    it's the most pleasant apocalypse ever!there is war! there are bombs! and everyone in the southern hemisphere knows the rest of the world is dead dead dead and they are just waiting for the radiation to drift downwards where they will succumb to vomiting and diarrhea and weakness and eventual death. let me repeat: this is known. and so what do they do to prepare themselves? not a whole lot. they buy some presents for children they know are already dead in other parts of the world (yes, this means that even though they know they will be dead within the month, there are still people reporting to work at the toy shop). they plant gardens they will never see. they have a car race. they buy a playpen to keep their baby from harm. duck and cover, indeed. it's more like an old navy commercial than the end of the world. not one single character freaks about about dying. not one goes on a looting spree or has sex or has a bomb shelter with canned goods to at least give survival a go. it's all shrug, oh well. here is a quote, no good agonizing about it. have another whiskey. yes, there is some drinking, but even that seems to be in moderation, except for the wine-uncle, who seems more concerned about not letting the wine cellar go to waste than as psychological padding from his doom. i'm sorry, but i get frustrated by unrealistic across-the-board behavior. one character in denial, sure, i can see that. one who is hopeful that the drift will just dissipate and never get to them. fine. but after one character is reminded that her hopes for grandchildren are probably not going to come to fruition, she remarks, oh, dear, i keep forgetting. i don't see how the end of humanity is something that slips the mind. maybe the first sign of radiation poisoning is a lack of affect. i honestly don't know. but cheer up, it can't get any worse!

    come to my blog!


  3. Duane Duane says:

    It's a dystopian story that is possible, it could really happen. How a global nucular war would play out nobody knows, but Nevil Shute's version is realistic. It is tragic, horrific, romantic, and sad. It shows humanity at it's best and it's worst and makes us all wonder how we would react in a similar situation. The ending was brilliant; an instant tear in the eye and lump in the throat.


  4. Hanneke Hanneke says:

    This is definitely one of the silliest books I ever read. That's precisely why I kept reading! Imagine, you are living in a post-apocalyptic world and you are on the south coast of Australia where the last remaining people on earth are living. You are scheduled to die within a couple of months, so then tell me, do you really care if your daffodils are coming up next spring or whether you should be faithfull to your wife, far away in the U.S., who surely is dead as everyone else is over there? Well, no, any rational being wouldn't. You would imagine the few remaining people are terrified for the toxic cloud coming their way but, no, everyone is behaving rationally and politely and go on doing their usual stuff as much as they can. The book was written in 1957 and the Apocalypse took place in 1963, so I should have some mercy on these people. But, oh, are they tedious! Even the proverbial bad girl turns into a good girl and thinks it is a splendid idea to learn how to type and stenograph with just an estimated lifespan of three months of living to do! She should have kept on knocking away those double whiskeys, in my opinion! Anyway, it was a hilarious book and I liked it because of the outrageous 50's sentiments. Perhaps I should pay some respect to Nevil Shute for writing what must be one of the first dystopian books in the popular sense. So there you go, cheers Nevil, you managed to write a very peculiar book.

    P.S. I later understood that this book terrified a lot of people, especially in the U.S. Remarkable, but I notice there is often a distinct dividing line between the U.S. and Europe in what is considered seriously scary.


  5. Brenda Brenda says:

    Peter Holmes was a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Australian Navy and was soon to join the USS Scorpion as a liaison officer under an American submarine captain, Commander Dwight Towers. Peter lived on a farm just outside Melbourne with his wife Mary and their baby daughter Jennifer. Since the radioactive particles from the nuclear bombs of WWIII had started drifting across the earth, communities in the northern hemisphere had been wiped out. The southern hemisphere had quickly followed, and northern Australia had already succumbed. The object of the US submarine was to tour the northern waters for signs of life - as far as the United States and Seattle in particular since a staticky morse code could occasionally be heard from that vicinity.

    As the residents of Melbourne continued on with their lives, some with calm demeanors, not believing what was to come, continuing to plan for the future, while others lost themselves in a bottle, trying to drown out reality...

    On the Beach by Aussie author Nevil Shute was originally published in 1957, with the story set in the future (of that time) of 1963. A fascinating story with nightmarish qualities which settled on ordinary everyday people. Buying gifts for people who were quite obviously no longer with us; planting a vegetable garden; repairing fences – all with only weeks to go until the end… Highly recommended.

    “It's not the end of the world at all, he said. It's only the end for us. The world will go on just the same, only we shan't be in it. I dare say it will get along all right without us.”


    With thanks to Text Publishing for my hardcover copy which is a reprinting of the 1957 original release.


  6. Chrisl Chrisl says:

    Unlike many others by Nevil, I've only read this one once. Didn't see movie. Remember enjoying the Australian setting and characters, how Shute depicted their mindsets and behaviors.

    Encourage readers who have read only this to try others by the author. Pied Piper, Round the Bend, and ... Alice.
    Pied Piper
    Round the Bend
    A Town Like Alice
    A classic post holocaust speculation from when terrorism wasn't ...

    When stationed at SAC, near Omaha, in the early 1960s, my barracks was closest to the flight line. The sounds of brakes on the big war birds ...

    Recommended Genre Companion = Pat Frank's Babylon
    Alas, Babylon


  7. Michael Michael says:

    It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine...

    That line from the old REM song pretty much sums up Nevil Shute's On the Beach. The world has ended and everyone's pretty much OK with it.

    Written in the late 50's and set in the near future of the early 60's, On the Beach finds World War III has come and gone. The final battle was set off by a misunderstanding with the bigger nuclear powers shooting first and asking questions later. The result is the northern hemisphere is gone, nuked to oblivion and the southern hemisphere is waiting for the radiation to slowly spread across the entire planet and kills the survivors.

    It's these survivors that we meet in Australia. And they're all taking it pretty well. There's no chaos here. Everything is running fairly normally, except for the fact that we're all going to die in about six months. And not a pretty death, but a slow, painful one.

    The big problem with this book is the quiet acceptance every character has of this. Yes, there are some characters deep in denial and some are planning for a world beyond six months from now, but never is there any sense of panic or desparation by anyone. The most panicked we get is they move up an auto race a few months becuase the time it's scheduled to take place will be after the radiation hits.

    There are some moments of hope in the story that someone might be alive in the northern hemisphere or that the coming end might not come. But these are quickly dashed and then everyone accepts it with quiet resignation.

    I'm sure when it was written, this book was strangely scary and virtually prophetic. But reading it now, it's a story that seems dated, with characters who fail to spark much interest for the reader. I haven't read a book since Lucifer's Hammer where I actively rooted for the apocolyptic event to happen already just to kill off some of the characters in the story and maybe get things moving. And that's the biggest flaw in On the Beach--nothing happens. We don't get to see the end of the world and nothing seems to make any impact on the characters. It's a hard book to read, not because of the subject matter but because virtually nothing happens and none of the characters are interesting enough to make the investment of time worth it in the end.


  8. Megan Megan says:

    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.


  9. Melki Melki says:

    Maybe we've been too silly to deserve a world like this, he said.

    The population of a small town in Australia goes very, very gently into that good night as they wait for a cloud of nuclear fallout to reach them.

    . . . no wind does blow right into the Southern Hemisphere from the Northern Hemisphere. If it did we'd all be dead right now.

    I wish we were, she said bitterly. It's like waiting to be hung.

    Maybe it is. Or maybe it's a period of grace.

    For the most part, everyone goes about their business. They open their shops, and plant gardens. It's life as usual, but with an expiration date. In modern-day America. I'm sure things would be quite different: rioting in the streets, massive looting, and a prevailing attitude of If I'm going out, I'm spending my last few months living like a king! Oh, how I prefer this idealized, fictionalized world of exiting with a sigh, and a well-timed pill.

    I must admit - the pet owners in this one got to me, and the farmer worried about the fate of his livestock. Who will care for these creatures when there are no humans? Turns out, as I discovered in the book I was reading concurrently with this one -Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster - animals are quite possibly better off without us.

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    Stray dogs near Chernobyl's reactor number four in 2017.

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    Horses graze in the exclusion zone.

    Life, uh, finds a way. (Except for us humans, I guess . . .)


  10. Marialyce Marialyce says:

    I have wanted to read this book for quite some time, and when it was offered on edelweiss, I decided to take it on. Perhaps it was not the best time to read a book about the world ending through nuclear war, but then again, it just might make me realize that there are and were truly worse things that threatened our existence. I realize the Wuhan virus is awful and a terrible ordeal for us all, but in this story most of the people of the world are already dead through radiation poisoning, and the characters in this story live in the last bastion of remaining living things. However, this too shall end as the radiation traveled southward into Australia and New Zealand, places where the bulk of the story take place.

    People know, they realize that their time is limited, and yet they hold out hope that perhaps maybe there will be a next Spring and Summer, that perhaps it won't be as they know it will, perhaps they will escape the ravages of nuclear fallout.

    We follow a number of characters and because of the time when this book was written 1957, the threat of nuclear war was real. Each character handles their ultimate doom in a different manner knowing that their death in imminent. It is a bit dated of course, but the message it carries is quite clear. We must all learn to enjoy the life we have been given for we never know when it could be taken from us.

    Interestingly, the title On the Beach is a Royal Navy term meaning retired from service. I am glad I finally had an opportunity to read this book. Thank you to Edelweiss for providing me the opportunity to do so.


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