zaterdag 10 december 2016

"On the Beach" by Nevil Shute

"'It's not the end of the world at all,' he said. 'It's only the end of 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.'"

The near future. The war lasted only a couple of days, but its effects are devastating. No less than 4000 nuclear bombs were dropped all over the Northern Hemisphere and killed every human being there. Australia is one of the few places in the world where there is still life. People are awaiting the nuclear cloud that is approaching them, and will wipe out the last of humankind.

In this gloomy atmosphere, we meet a diverse cast of characters. Captain Dwight Towers, commander of an American submarine, knows that his friends and family have all been killed. Lieutenant Commander Peter Holmes and his wife Mary, who have just become parents. Moira Davidson, who feels attracted to Towers, and who tries to cope with the impending end by drinking too much. They will be among the last of humanity.

The premise of this novel has everyting to produce a suspenseful novel, but that's not the story the author wants to tell. Given such an apocalyptical setting, most authors would have their characters in deep despair, go out looting, murdering people and destroying things. But Shute's characters all seem resigned, either not wanting to accept the inevitable outcome, or being quite naive. They're literally sitting there, waiting to die, altough they refuse to give up on their old lives. They're still pursuing relationships, preparing the garden for next year, buying presents for their children, whom they know have died,... It's sad and depressing and it's especially this feeling of resignation that makes "On the Beach" such a chilling read. Yes, human kind has destroyed itself. It deserves what it gets...

And the most frightening thing of all... this could still happen today. The warring factions might have different names, but the insanity is of all times. Chilling, absolutely chilling.

Author: Nevil Shute
Title: On the Beach
Publisher: Vintage, London
Year: 2009 (orig. 1957)
Number of pages: 312 p.
ISBN: 9780099530251

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