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On the Beach

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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 desperate search for signs of life. On the Beach is a remarkably convincing portrait of how ordinary people might face the most unimaginable nightmare.

296 pages, Paperback

First published July 1, 1957

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About the author

Nevil Shute

178 books929 followers
Nevil Shute Norway was a popular British novelist and a successful aeronautical engineer.

He used Nevil Shute as his pen name, and his full name in his engineering career, in order to protect his engineering career from any potential negative publicity in connection with his novels.

He lived in Australia for the ten years before his death.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
July 14, 2019
“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.”

 photo 923a08d5-7ac4-40e1-8533-0a8ec35137b8_zpsa1ff16d3.gif
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.

 photo TSEliot_zps43ad739b.jpg
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

 photo atomicbomb_zps879109b3.jpg

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.

 photo cobalt_zps1c8ee25c.jpg

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.

 photo onthebeach_zpsa4b1bcbb.jpg
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.”

 photo RadiationComic_zps66e613e3.jpg

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***

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
September 19, 2018
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!
Profile Image for Duane.
828 reviews430 followers
December 28, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Hanneke.
338 reviews352 followers
March 3, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,224 reviews2,729 followers
January 29, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Metodi Markov.
1,341 reviews316 followers
June 30, 2023
Чете се много.

Четат се много глупости.

А книги като "На брега", търпеливо чакат да бъдат забелязани или да им дойде ред.

Това е от най-редкия тип книги, от тези които творят история! Особенно важно е да бъде прочетена от хората, които имат достъп до куфарчетата с кодовете за изстрелване на ракетите с ядрени бойни глави. И се надявам поне малко да е спомогнала за разрешаването на Карибската криза, случила се едва няколко години след публикуването ѝ.

Невил Шут майсторски описва края на света. Бавно, ненатрапчиво, но неотклонно, смъртта иде и нищо и никой не може да я спре. Хората се преструват, за да се спасят от лудостта, създават си светове и идеи, но всичко е напразно, тя идва за всеки един неизменно. За да оцелеят накрая само зайците, поне за още една година...

Болезнено е, но е абсолютно възможно това да се случи и днес...

Шедьовър, който трябва да се прочете задължително и даже да се изучава в училище.

За желаещите - има я в Читанка за свободен прочит, но аз заплатих един лев и сега е сред останалите страхотни книги в библиотеката ми.


P.S. Дано руския фашист Путин да е гледал поне филма, книги е ясно на всички, че не чете...
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
815 reviews617 followers
October 31, 2022
A very appropriate read for these troubled times, where leaders are prepared to risk the health of this planet & its population to get their own way.

Written in 1957, this book is set slightly in the future. (1963) In 1961 World War 3 is a nuclear war which has destroyed all living things in the Northern Hemisphere & air currents are carrying the nuclear fallout to the Southern Hemisphere.

In Melbourne, Australia many are trying to carry on living a normal life in spite of all the changes - like a shortage of petrol for example. Or some prefer to drink themselves into oblivion.

I totally get this denial of reality.

I thought Shute was imaginative and sensitive in the world he created. Moira Davidson is now my new favourite Shute heroine.

Thought provoking.

Edit: & I thought I would just share my own experiences of those times.

My New Zealand born (but Canadian citizen) father & Canadian mother lived in Toronto in 1961. After the Bay of Pigs invasion, my father decided he wanted to go back to New Zealand as he was convinced the world was heading for WW3. & in 1963 that is what our family did. So the mixture of responses in this book (apathy, thrill seeking, denial of reality) seem believable to me.

Profile Image for Michael.
1,231 reviews115 followers
August 13, 2008
"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.
Profile Image for Chrisl.
607 reviews87 followers
January 31, 2019
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
Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,723 followers
November 12, 2021
The world is in big trouble. At least, it is in this 1957 dystopia. Our planet, ravaged by atomic bombs, is infected by a deadly dust that is slowly making its way southward to Melbourne, Australia, the last large city standing.

Death is on its way to all Earth's remaining inhabitants. News reports announce every time another city falls, and it's just a matter of time before the cholera-like symptoms finish off the last of the human race. Good times.

Despite this knowledge, the people in this book exhibit a deep seeded denial. They are planting next year's garden, buying gifts for their (surely) dead relatives in America, planning fishing trips, pricing lawn mowers, and worrying over their baby's first tooth breaking through.

This was interesting to me at first, because I do believe there's a psychological truth to that type of behaviour. As humans, we tend to believe it can happen to someone else, somewhere else, but not to us. This is a thing.

But it grated on me as the 300 page book progressed, and the dust made its way closer to Australia's southern coast. Shute's characters lay down and take their fate with an unconvincing placidity. Not for a minute do I believe that everyone would just stay home and die rather than shuffle southward to where it is safer. Declining to even attempt to extend their lives, no matter how slight the chance. Not for a minute do I believe there would be such civilized acceptance of mass extinction. There would be madness, desperation, looting, and harebrained schemes for survival.

There's none of that in these pages. In fact, the one character who said "to hell with it, I'm doing as I please before I die" becomes remarkably tame and proper as her doom approaches.

Let me tell you, whatever it says about me, I would NOT plant daffodil bulbs if the end was near. I would be fighting for a ticket to the South Pole, or stow away on the last working submarine, even if it could only guarantee a few more weeks of life.

On a technical note: this is my first time reading Nevil Shute, and while he is a competent enough writer, his dialogue conventions really drove me up the wall. He loves to refer to each character in a myriad of ways. For example, our protagonist Peter Holmes is referred to in dialogue as "Peter", "Peter Holmes", "the Australian", "the liason officer", "the young naval officer", "the officer", "the host" and probably more that I didn't catch. Dwight Towers was known as "Dwight", "Dwight Towers" "Commander Towers", "the American", "the captain", and many more. I found this style of cycling through the different names really distracting and confused the psychic distance between reader and character.

Also, the author went nuts on page 112, using the word "it'ld" four times and "that'ld" once (never to do so again for the rest of the book). Oh, and introduced me to the Australian term "dinkum" (it's not an insult, strangely enough).

While On the Beach does express the awful fear of nuclear war so typical of mid-last-century, I found this novel both depressing, and a little bit silly.

He paused, thinking of the flowering trees that he had seen on the shore through the periscope, cascaras and flame trees, the palms standing in the sunlight. “Maybe we’ve been too silly to deserve a world like this.”

The scientist said, “That’s absolutely and precisely right.”
Profile Image for Megan.
418 reviews387 followers
June 13, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Melki.
6,031 reviews2,386 followers
October 1, 2019
"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.

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

Horses graze in the exclusion zone.

Life, uh, finds a way. (Except for us humans, I guess . . .)
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews710 followers
April 4, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book563 followers
March 7, 2016
This is a stirring, eerily believable short work by Nevil Shute. It is post WWIII and everyone in the world is dead except those who are in Australia and New Zealand. But, they are not safe, they are just waiting for the radiation to reach them. There is an ample mix of denial and acceptance in each of the characters, some of whom prepare for next year's garden even though they have been told the end is expected in a matter of months.

The main characters are a US submarine commander, Dwight Towers, and his counterpart, lt. commander Peter Holmes, an Australian. Towers has survived by virtue of being out to sea at the time of the war, Holmes is a married man with a wife and daughter. These men maintain their military personae to the end and are engaged in measuring radiation levels and other useless research, which they recognize as useless even as they carry their orders out. They seem to need the illusion that there is still purpose and work to be done. It is almost frightening to think that anyone would prefer to continue their work in the face of such catastrophe, but it might beat the alternative of just waiting for life to be finally snuffed out completely.

What caused this annihilation?

"The bombs were too cheap," said the scientist. "They only cost about fifty thousand pounds near the end. Every little country could have some. And every little country that had some money stated to drop bombs. It thought it could beat anyone else. It could drop the bombs in a surprise attack before the other country was ready. That was the real trouble."

Seems all too real and accurate for my tastes. Makes you hope Mr. Shute was not clairvoyant. It is not the big countries that start the war, it is the small ones, but the big ones are dragged into it and the result is devastation for all. As indeed, any nuclear war could only be.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,890 followers
March 16, 2018
This is a tricky book to review without spoilers, there is basically only one incident that drives the entire book, and that happens off the page before the book begins, and that event means that a certain thing is going to happen, to everybody, the problem is that this certain thing will happen to everyone anyway (sorry if that comes as a spoiler to you, but it does) so from a literary point of view the author either has to find some new or particular meaning or convince us that this is particularly poignant for the book to be successful, by the very nature of the story there can't be thrills, spills or miraculous escapes - well, there could have been a couple of possible escape routes but Shute chose not to explore those and he only acknowledges one in any case.

Judging by other reviews some people found that it worked for them, indeed on the back of the copy I read a reviewer from The Evening News wrote "If you can can read it without being brought to the edge of tears you are harder and more callous than I am", so I learnt from this book that I am harder and more callous than one John Connell. Well I didn't know that before reading, so I could be grateful for this revelation. Now I can imagine Mr Connell looking up from his typewriter to a framed photograph of the young Queen Liz II, left hand barely able to hold his tumbler of whisky steady, as he mumbles something about how magnificently stiff lipped they all were. However I found myself in the same position as when I read Mary Shelley's The Last Man one watches a certain process unfolding, and basically it is not very interesting, theoretically it is dramatic, but it is hard to convey that for the length of even a 250ish page yarn . Hmm.

After this book was published a Swiss woman came up with the five stages of Grief. In this book however however there is no such thing, instead there are only three states: denial, acceptance and once or twice and only from the women - petulance. So a certain thing is going to happen - none of the characters is going through any process or development in regard to this thing, they remain in the same mental state throughout so there is minimal psychological interest for the reader. Sorry if I'm over selling this to you and you are already hammering on the library door.

Well to fill the time between the first page and the last one, Shute gives us some characters: an Australian naval officer, and his wife (the wife is a bit, well actually pretty, which is to say simply stupid, but that more or less suffices for a character) her husband though is a good sort, mechanically minded so a good sort, he gets appointed liaison officer to a US American submarine, there doesn't seem to be any purpose for this appointment but ne'er mind, in for a penny, in for pound, the author was a bit at a loss too, he describes him as having a really busy day of liaison work and then lists everything he does: he phones an old friend, pretty exhausting this liaison work, hey? The couple also have a baby, I think the baby is called Jennifer butshe is resolutely described as 'it' which builds in a certain distance between the reader and any potential pathos. Next character: the US commander of the submarine, he's called Dwight and is in denial, and says things like 'sure' and mentions 'uncle Sam' regularly so we know he's 100 percent USA. He doesn't have a relationship with Moira, when we first meet her she wears red lipstick, a red blouse, red shoes and some kind of garment covering her lower body which is also red. Aha, says I, I knows about this symbolism lark, avast! This be a Scarlet woman, shiver me timbers! Next time she's dressed all in white (so virginal then), after that in Khaki (camouflage maybe), I don't know, these modern writers, always trying to confound and confuse the reader, it's enough to give you a headache. At first she boozes, then she becomes a good girl and attends secretarial school, God knows why, then she hits the brandy again - curious actually that the country doesn't run out of brandy, she won't sleep over because what would her parents say? As a reader you think that given a certain thing will happen why would anyone care - ok some of you point out there's a certain thing called religion, but then the author flags up that the government have made preparations so that everybody can participate and smooth out the potentially irregular process of the certain event by swallowing a certain pill and as far as I recall religious thought is generally not keen on people taking such an action even in the face of the inevitable and inescapable. Finally there's a boffin, Moira knows him, maybe he's called John, maybe he's a kind of cousin of her's, he is seconded to the submarine as scientific attaché, Moira warns against this, darkly suggesting that he is unsuitable. At this the reader's heart leaps, maybe he is homosexual, or maybe he likes to stitch together body parts and reanimate them with electricity, in the end it turns out that he definitely owns a race car and likes to drive it very fast, which I had assumed was the point, but you know - women ay?

So we've got a process, some characters and an atomic submarine so naturally we've got to have a refit, or two, because that's the kind of novel this is, actually that is Shute's comfort zone, there's a nice scene when the boffin fiddles about with his car or plans to cannibalise some parts to repair it, essentially this is were Shute is good and when his characters are at ease , but once we've had a refit, and a sea trial, then we get to have a quest because of a mcguffin reason.

Some other things happen, there's a grand prix with car crashes and burst tires, which might be kind of exciting but for the fact that a certain thing is going to happen so it doesn't much matter if you crash and burn or not in a larger perspective. There's a concerted effort to drink all the Port. And there's a visit to an Art gallery and a discussion about Art - I like that kind of thing in a book as in my way I assume the author is not so subtly conveying their aesthetic to the reader. In this case we are told that the 'phoney' is bad, where phoney is understood to mean too dramatic or unrealistic, realism is the desired effect and a certain subtly - for which I'd give the book a B plus, or possibly a C minus as I think they have too much electricity, and too much food, and I'm a bit bothered that so many people keep on working and don't attempt to go to certain places . Anyway the kind of Art that is good we are told, is Renoir, apparently there is sufficient Renoir in Melbourne (p.147). Good art then should be "very French and very colourful" (p.147), well that Moira character wears red and white and Khaki - there's our colour, as for French, well there are some bottles of Bourdeux, so we have a book that is French and colourful and therefore like Renoir and thus counts as good Art. Now we are know were we stand. And if I'm underwhelmed it is because I'm callous and incapable of appreciating Art with a capital a.

Interested that smoking is allowed onboard the submarine, I suppose it is a bit late to worry in the context of the story, but struck me as curious.

An alternative review would simply be this but that has too many spoilers really and I couldn't do that to you.
I think this kind of non-story is really difficult though to accomplish, but this time the cover is more exciting than the contents, I mean there's a man and a woman and a submarine surfacing - I note some other covers are less exciting, some even have the only spoiler illustrated which seems a trifle unfair. It reads like the novelisation of a not great film, one can imagine with very good actors if they really tried that it might work if you were really in the mood. However this is undoubtedly a must read if you love novels set in Australia that mention trams and have a tram driver saying something, otherwise...

Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,480 reviews104 followers
January 2, 2021
I read this book in honor of Pamela, a dear, witty, and well read GR friend who passed away three months ago. It was on her list of favorites. She is missed..

This book was made into a successful film starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire. I saw it years ago and it is their faces I saw when I read the book. WWIII has just ended in the total destruction of life in the Northern Hemisphere and the radioactive cloud is moving into the Southern Hemisphere, killing all in its path. The story is set in Australia, which is still radioactive free and follows the lives of four main characters and how they are dealing (or not dealing) with their impending deaths.

It took a while to get used to Shute's use of what appeared to be an overabundance of small talk among the main players but it soon became clear that he was providing the reader with an in-depth character study of each one which would play a part in their acceptance and actions as the end was near.

The book moves slowly but surely toward the inevitable as the characters attempt to go on with their lives and make decisions that will break your heart. The final page moved me to tears. It is a downbeat but also somewhat uplifting story and I recommend it.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
February 5, 2009
Read this book if you're ever tempted to think that global nuclear war wasn't a real threat. People were scared shitless, with good reason.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,619 reviews985 followers
May 1, 2023
One of the last inhabited places, on a post (Northern Hemisphere-centric) nuclear war Earth is Australia; and as the fallout slowly but steadily comes south, people start making preparations (or not) for the big end. Meanwhile the second to last US nuclear submarine is docked at the harbour. Yet another truly wonderful read by Shute. 8 out of 12 - Four Stars.

2013 read
Profile Image for Dave.
3,104 reviews353 followers
March 28, 2020
"It's The End of the World and I Feel Fine"

The one scene that always sticks with me from the movie Titanic is the band on the platform playing on as the ship goes under. They continued on, doing what they knew how to do, without panic, without losing their cool. Nevis Shute's On the Beach plays out that same idea. It's a story, first published at the height of the Cold War with everyone in fear of utter nuclear annihilation. However, it's not a science fiction end of the world story. There are no zombies, no Mad Max raging through the wasteland, no secret underground survivor bunkers. It's an alternate history chronicling the end of the world. Nuclear war has taken out much of the northern hemisphere. For the rest, the radioactive cloud is slowly blowing and their time is limited by the month, the week, the day, the hour.

This story takes place outside of Melbourne, Australia, the southernmost city. Life here goes on. The country club still has affairs. The folks get together and have dinners and drinks. They shop for bargains. But, the outside world has disappeared. There's no contact and the remaining submarines travel to find what's left and no life is visible anywhere, though the towns and cities are often still standing.

It's the end of the world and they will still get by. They still get together and walk Main Street. There's little petrol left so cars are pulled by horses and bicycles are an important source of transport. And the few naval officers left still abide by the rules.

It's a different kind of end of the world story. The end us coming and they accept it. They quietly go about their lives and pretend everything's okay.
Profile Image for Deborah Ideiosepius.
1,674 reviews131 followers
February 27, 2017
This is an old, absolute classic, of science fiction from the days before sci-fi and fiction had separate shelves in the bookstores, it is almost the prototype of dystopian fiction. Re-reading it after many years I wonder if it was one of the books that helped fix in the public's mind the notion of 'mutually assured destruction' and of just how costly to the planet nuclear war must be.

Despite the finality of the end, it is surprisingly not depressing, rather I found it a cleansing sort of ending and put it down with a sort of serious yet sad satisfaction.

On the beach was published in 1957 and is set in the 'future' of the early 1960's just after a short and terminal war during which nuclear weapons were deployed extensively in the northern hemisphere. Now, our main characters in Australia wait fatalistically for the radioactive cloud to envelope Melbourne each dealing with the situation stoically but surprisingly consistently. The USA submarine captain, with no USA left alive to go to, the officer of the Australian navy who becomes his liaison and whose home is just a short train ride outside Melbourne has a wife and young baby. The CSIRO scientist who joins them for a couple of trips to determine the extent of the radioactivity and a young woman who's first coping method for the emergency is brandy. It is fascinating, well written and consistently eerie in a understated way.

It is a constant surprise to me how extremely dated things written in the 50's are today, this novel is no exception. While the author lived in Australia and the novel is primarily set in Victoria it's 'feel' is firmly English,British commonwealth to the max in all things. The way people speak, dress and behave the fact that everyone smokes without question, the gendered social mores. Of course, in 1950's Australia was still very British, one forgets how much so and how recently.

Many small things give the era away and there is a gripping fascination to realise that the end of the human race that is so unrelentingly unfolding never happened and that we went on. It is chilling to realise how easily, even then, we might not have had any future. Also, I found myself thinking of the chart showing how many nuclear explosions have been detonated on the world since the 1950's, and that was plain scary because there have probably been many more detonated since then, than the entirety of the bombs that existed in 1957. How is the planet doing, I kept wondering.

As a modern reader I am accustomed to stories in which the hero always saves the day, surviving unsurvivable odds ect ect... Despite knowing that there is no survival in this one I found myself still half expecting that humanity will find an 'answer'. They do not, that is the whole point. So do not wait for our heroes to find a cure, this is a gripping, sad book about the end of hubris and these endings are graceful, brave, cautionary, they are many things but ultimately they are relentlessly final.
Profile Image for Michael || TheNeverendingTBR.
479 reviews190 followers
February 13, 2021
"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."

On the Beach details the experiences of a mixed group of people in Melbourne, Australia as they await the arrival of deadly radiation spreading towards them from the Northern Hemisphere, following a nuclear war a year previously. As the radiation approaches, each person deals with their impending death differently.

Okay, this was rather dated but the story of course is still very relevant in today's world.

But the way it's dealt with here is similar to other Cold War era novels of similar subjects.

This particular book was playing on the fear of nuclear war and how terrible radiation fallout/sickness is.

I guess I went into this with my expectations too high, I think Nevil Shute is a great writer but this one wasn't as great as I thought it would be but still gets three stars.

I didn't like the ending and the hopelessness of it.
Profile Image for Wind.
124 reviews31 followers
July 19, 2021
Kitabı çok beğendiğimi ve beni derinden etkilediğini rahatlıkla söyleyebilirim. Doğrusu Bilimkurgu Klasikleri serisi içerisinde bu kadar etkileneceğim bir kitabın olacağını sanmıyordum, benim için hoş bir sürpriz oldu.

Kitap genel anlamda yoğun bilimkurgu öğeleri içermiyor hatta kitaptaki tek bilimkurgu öğesi nükleer savaş sonrasını anlatması ancak kitapta ön planda olan tema bilimkurgu değil bizzat insanın kendisi. Çaresizlik oldukça başarılı bir şekilde işlenmiş. İnsanın son ana kadar ölümü kabullenmek istemeyişini çarpıcı bir şekilde anlatıyor. Tüm insanlığın bir-iki kendini bilmez devlet başkanının aptalca kararıyla yok olabileceğini tokat gibi insanın yüzüne çarpıyor.

Bu kitapta anlatılanların gerçekleşme ihtimali o kadar yüksek ki, bence bu kitap mükemmel bir savaş karşıtı propaganda görevi görüyor.

Savaşın ne kadar korkunç bir şey olduğunu, savaşın onun bir parçası olmayan insanlar üzerindeki etkisiyle göstermek gibi bir başarısı da var. Son derece beğendim ve herkese tavsiye ederim.
Profile Image for Tracey.
425 reviews93 followers
June 24, 2017
What do you do when all hope is lost?
For the people in this book about our world dying of radiation after an atomic war the answer seems to be carry on as normally as possible. Go to the beach, swim, sail, go to work, enjoy parties and drink, plant the daffodils, clear the trees and chop the wood .
There is no let up for the reader, always the knowledge that it will happen.
It's a bleak vision of a post apocalyptic world that is at once both terrifying and moving.
As I said in my earlier update it felt like a black and white film from the fifties, the manners, the correctness, the language of the book is of that time.
There is no humour, no let up as it slowly arrives at the inevitable conclusion.
41/2* but rounded up to 5 . Nevil Shute once again held me captive with this haunting story.
Profile Image for Kristijan.
216 reviews66 followers
August 20, 2016
"On the Beach" je još jedan u nizu odličnih postapokaliptičnih romana koji su stekli skoro kultni status. Autor romana, Nevil Shute, je pre svega poznat po svom romanu "Grad kao Alis" koji je ekranizovan u vidu TV serije koja je osamdesetih godina bila davana i na ovim prostorima. Ovaj roman je preveden na srpski jezik davne 1961. godine pod nazivom "Poslednja plaža" i od tada, nažalost, nije ponovo objavljivan u Srbiji.

Radnja romana je smeštena u Melburn, 1963. godine. Nakon III svetskog rata i nuklearne katastrofe, severna hemisfera je opustošena radijacijom. Ona se lagano širi ka jugu i preostalo stanovništvo odbrojava dane do svršetka sveta. U Melburnu, koji je jedan od najjužnijih gradova, ljudi kao da žive normalnim životom. Oni planiraju svoje živote, organizuju svoje vrtove, kupuju stvari koje će im trajati dugi niz godina,... Izgleda kao da ljudi ipak ne gube nadu, međutim dovoljan je samo jedan mali okidač da svako od njih na momenat stane, ukopa se u mestu, otplače malo nad svojom neizbežnom gorkom sudbinom, i onda nastavi sa životom (tj. sa onim što je ostalo od njega). Glavni likovi su dva mornara - jedan australijski (oženjen i ima malo dete) a drugi je američki (on veruje kako su njegovi žena i dvoje dece još uvek živi tamo negde u Americi). Tu su i jedan naučnik opsednut brzim kolima, i jedna žena, naizgled laka, ali veoma velikog srca. Njihove sudbine se prepliću i svi će oni doći do tačke kada će morati da odaberu - da li će umreti dostojanstveno ili od mučnih posledica radijacije...

Shute u ovom romanu ne detaljiše mnogo o samom ratu ili radijaciji. On je stavio naglasak na likove, njihove živote, rutinu u koju se oni ukopavaju,... Sama radnja romana teče poprilično sporo, mada to u neku ruku kao da reflektuje to lagano proširivanje radijacije ka samom jugu.
Gledano onako u celini, roman je interesantan - počiva na odličnoj zamisli i sama realizacija je više nego uspešna, a i glavni likovi su dobro oslikani (mada na momente znaju da budu iritantni). Ovo je jedna jaka četvorka.
Profile Image for Carrie.
Author 4 books67 followers
April 10, 2008
Hmmmmm.....probably one of the most sobering books I have ever read....plausible, poignant, post accidental apocalyptic....it left me mad at Man; mad at His stupidity; mad at His ridiculous striving after world dominance, instead of striving after world harmony.

Nevil Shute's sharply perceptive understanding of Human emotions is pure genius (I would have written 'mastery' there but I understand in some lands that word can be considered offensive....in England, it is not....however, I have declined to use it....well, sort of)!

A formidable read, an austere warning: even though the writing of the book is over fifty years old, it still rings out with the same uncompromising message, that 'Man dominates Man to his injury'.

Haunting, compelling, undeniably persuasive and definitely leaves you with 'fallout' for days after you have finished reading it.

6 reviews1 follower
December 24, 2008
This book was recommended after my disappointment with Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." I cannot say it was an improvement.

The characters in the novel are largely one-dimension with little contrast and their interactions are superficial and or stereotypical. John is the lifelong geek who finally gets a thrill. Moira falls for Dwight based on a few half-drunk interactions; this kind of quick connection is the kind of poorly-earned romance typically found in bad movies. Mary is the stereotypical housewife of the 50's whose denial of the reality of what faces her borders on stupidity (count how many times she asks if it's really going to happen to them). In fact, as a more enlightened 21st century reader, there's a lot of subtle sexism and chauvinism in the book that I found rather unpalatable. The men are pretty much all stoics and the women are the only ones showing much emotion. Dwight's by-the-book mentality, even right at the end, is a bit difficult to stomach. I also found his method of coping with grief to be a bit too much to buy -- maybe I would have if everyone else didn't have some measure of it as well.

On the whole, I found most of the book difficult to accept as genuine. The author wanted denial to be an evocative and reoccurring theme of the book, but I never feel he earned it with what he wrote. Plus, he never really goes into any deeper issues of what coping with the end of humanity would be like. It's mostly kept on a mundane level. Plus, where's the diversity of reaction? Are we really to believe everyone reacts in mostly the same way? The book was emotionally empty.

There was little of interest in the plot. I don't need action to keep me interested, but much of the plot seems extraneous in that it didn't really advance the story. A lot of the narration could have been excised without really losing anything.

The author's writing was very unimaginative and rote. He overuses words far too much (count how many times you see the word "presently" and then count how many times it was unnecessary (hint: the numbers will match)). The characters often talk in very formal, stilted language. There was one bit of dialogue, no more than a page's width, that had the word "ought" three times. Most all of the descriptions are very plain and to the point and never access anything higher. He often introduces knowledge he wants the reader to know (such as why the war started, why there's still electricity, etc) in a forced and obvious way via dialogue through his characters.

I definitely would not recommend it.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,635 followers
July 25, 2023
One of the most depressing books I have ever read. Well-written, good characters, a little suspense. Just incredibly, ineluctably horrifying as any book about mankind’s self-destruction and extinction should be. Just, wow.
I liked the characters here and their varied reaction to impending doom. There was a certain poetry to how Shute dances the characters around the central action and how news trickles in from everywhere of the finality of the nuclear conflict. It was as I said very depressing, what truly great writing and definitely worth an afternoon (and a fifth of whiskey).
Profile Image for Muhammad .
146 reviews30 followers
October 5, 2021
The highest result of education is tolerance” – বলেছিলেন হেলেন কেলার। নামী-দামী বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় থেকে বড় বড় ডিগ্রী বাগিয়ে নিয়ে আমরা অনেকেই উচ্চশিক্ষায় শিক্ষিত হই বটে, কিন্তু হেলেন কেলার যে বিষয়টিকে শিক্ষার চূড়ান্ত ফলাফল হিসেবে ধার্য্য করেছেন, সেই ‘সহনশীলতা’ মাপকাঠিটির বিচারে আমরা উচ্চ ডিগ্রীধারীরা কয়জন আসলে কেলারের সামনে নিজেকে ‘শিক্ষিত’ বলে জাহির করতে পারবো? আমরা সবাই আসলে প্রথম সুযোগেই আমাদের মনের ভেতরে বিভাজনের এক একটা দেয়াল তুলে রেখে সহনশীলতা বিষয়টিকে কবর চাপা দিয়ে দেই। আমরা ব্যাস্ত হয়ে পড়ি যত দ্রুত সম্ভব অপরকে হিন্দু-মুসলমান-ইহুদী-কেরেস্তান-বৌদ্ধ-বুর্জোয়া-প্রলেতারিয়াত-সাদা-কালো-বাদামী-হলুদ-বড় দাঁত-বোঁচা নাক-গায়ে গন্ধ…ইত্যাদি নানান বিশেষত্বের রঙে রাঙিয়ে নিজেদের থেকে আলাদা করে ফেলতে। নিজেদের ধর্মীয়/ রাজনৈতিক/ সামাজিক/ মানবিক বিশ্বাসগুলোর বাইরে যাঁরা আছেন, তাঁদের আমরা মোটেই সহ্য করতে পারিনা। বিভাজনের এই দেয়ালগুলো তুলে অপরকে আমরা মূলত যে প্রশ্নটি করি, সেটি হলো, “তুমি কেন আদৌ তুমি? তুমি কি পারোনা আমার মতো হতে?

"তুমি কি পারোনা আমার মতো হতে?"-প্রশ্নটি (প্রত্যক্ষ বা পরোক্ষভাবে) সম্ভবত পৃথিবীতে সবচেয়ে বেশী জিজ্ঞাসিত। হাজার হাজার বছর ধরে আমরা প্রতিটি বর্ণের, জাতির, ধর্মের, কালের, পাত্রের মানুষকে এই একটি প্রশ্নের বল্লম দিয়ে খুঁচিয়ে খুঁচিয়ে রক্তাক্ত করে আসছি। এত হাজার বছরের ব্যবহারেও প্রচণ্ড ধারালো প্রশ্নটি ভোঁতা হয়নি এক বিন্দুও। আর কতটা রক্ত ঝরালে, কত অর্বুদ কোটি মানুষ মারলে পরে এই প্রশ্নটি করা বন্ধ হবে তা সম্ভবত কারোই জানা নেই, কিন্তু নিয়মিতই যদি প্রশ্নটি করে যাওয়া হয়, তাহলে তা কি ফলাফল নিয়ে আসবে তা অনেকেই দিব্যদৃষ্টিতে দেখে ফেলতে পারেন।

ব্রিটিশ লেখক নেভিল শ্যুট ১৯৫৭ সালে লিখেছিলেন ‘অন দ্যা বিচ’; জঁনরা বিচারে উপন্যাসটিকে ‘পোস্টঅ্যাপোক্যালিপ্টিক সাইন্স ফিকশন’ বলা যেতে পারে। লেখা ’৫৭ সালে, কিন্তু বইটির গল্প ৬ বছর পর ’৬৩ সালের। প্রায় বরফশীতল নির্বিকার এক স্বরে শ্যুট গল্প বলে দেখিয়েছেন অসহনশীলতার মূল্য কত চওড়া হতে পারে। বইটির গল্প তৃতীয় বিশ্বযুদ্ধ নিয়ে। শ্যুট নিজে ইঞ্জিনিয়ার হিসেবে যুদ্ধ করেছেন দ্বিতীয় বিশ্বযুদ্ধে; ব্রিটিশ সেনাবাহিনীর ‘ডিরেক্টোরেট অফ মিসেলোনিয়াস ওয়েপন্স ডিভেলপমেন্ট’ বিভাগে সাব-লিউটেন্যান্ট হিসেবে কাজ করেছেন, অন্তত দু’টি সফল অস্ত্রের অন্যতম পথিকৃৎ তিনি (প্যাঞ্জান্ড্রাম এবং আরপি-৩ অ্যান্টি সাবমেরিন রকেট)। দ্বিতীয�� বিশ্বযুদ্ধ-উত্তর পৃথিবী অনেকদিন পর্যন্ত (এমনকি আজও) নিউক্লিয়ার বোমা/ মিসাইল হামলার আতঙ্কে কাটিয়েছে। নিজে সরেজমিনে অস্ত্র বানাবার প্রকল্পে যুক্ত ছিলেন বলেই শ্যুটের আতঙ্কটা ছিলো সম্ভবত আর দশজনের চেয়ে বেশী।

‘অন দ্যা বিচ’-এর প্রেক্ষাপট তৃতীয় বিশ্বযুদ্ধ পরবর্তী এক পৃথিবী যেখানে নিউক্লিয়ার হামলায় গ্রহটির ৯০% মানুষ-ই শেষ হয়ে গেছে। দক্ষিণ আমেরিকার কিছু অংশ, অস্ট্রেলিয়া, নিউজিল্যান্ড এবং দক্ষিণ আফ্রিকায় অল্প কিছু মানুষ টিকে আছে, তবে দক্ষিণা বাতাস বিষাক্ত রেডিয়েশন বয়ে নিয়ে আসছে, আর বড় জোর ৬ মাস, এরপর মানুষের টিকির চিহ্নটিও আর থাকবেনা পৃথিবীর বুকে। এ অবস্থায় আমেরিকার নেভাল বাহিনীর শেষ সাবমেরিনটি নিয়ে কমান্ডার ডোয়াইট টাওয়া��স আমেরিকা, এশিয়া, ইওরোপ, আফ্রিকা-এই মহাদেশগুলোর জলসীমায় ঢুঁড়ে বেড়াচ্ছেন যদি কোথাও কোন বিচ্ছিন্ন জনগোষ্ঠী টিকে থাকে, মানবজাতির শেষ আশার বাতিটি টিমটিম করে যদি কেউ জিইয়ে রাখে-এই আশায়। রেডিয়েশনের জন্য ডাঙায় ওঠা বারণ, তাই ডাঙার কাছাকাছি এসে জোরালো মাইকে হাঁক দিয়ে দিয়ে মানুষ খুঁজে বেড়াচ্ছেন টাওয়ারস। নিঃসীম নীরবতা মাইকের জোরালো সে হাঁক খপ করে গিলে খেয়ে ফেলে, প্রতিধ্বনিতও যেন হতে দেয় না। কোথাও নেউ নেই।

উপন্যাসের নিউক্লিয়ার এই যুদ্ধটি হয়েছে মানুষের অসহনশীলতাকে কেন্দ্র করেই। কোবাল্টের দাম ভীষণ সস্তা হয়ে যাওয়ায় ছোট-বড়, গরীব-ধনী ভেদে সব দেশই সোৎসাহে নিউক্লিয়ার অস্ত্র বানাতে ব্যাস্ত হয়ে পড়ে। প্রথম আক্রমণটা করে আলবেনিয়া, ইতালীতে। এরপর মিশর হামলা করে বসে আমেরিকা এবং ইংল্যান্ডে। মিশরের ব্যবহৃত বিমানগুলো সোভিয়েত রাশিয়ার তৈরী বলে ন্যাটো বাহিনী একযোগে হামলা চালায় সোভিয়েতে। ওদিকে সীমান্ত নিয়ে রেষারেষির জেরে চীন এবং রাশিয়াও একে অপরকে হামলা করে বসে। নিউক্লিয়ার তেজস্ক্রিয়তা দেশ-জাতি-সীমানা এসব বোঝেনা, তাই একের পর এক দেশে ছড়াতে থাকে রেডিয়েশনের বিষ, যুদ্ধের কয়েক মাসের মাঝেই দেশের পর দেশ উজাড় হয়ে যায়, রেডিয়েশনে দগ্ধে পঁচে গলে যাওয়া হাড়, মাংস, চামড়া মেলে কাতারে কাতারে শুয়ে মানুষ অপেক্ষা করছে কখন এ যন্ত্রণার শেষ হবে। কেউ কাউকে দেখবার নেই।

শ্যুটের এ উপন্যাসে মূলতঃ দু’টি বিষয় উঠে এসেছে মোটা দাগে। প্রথমত, এ মহাবিশ্বে আমরা ভীষণ, ভীষণ, ভীষণ একা। আমাদের থাকা-না থাকায় মহাবিশ্বের বালটাও ছেঁড়া যায় না। আমাদের বাড়ীর কোণায় থাকা উইঢিবিটার সবগুলো পোকা যদি হঠাৎ করে মরে যায়, আমরা টেরও পাইনা, আমাদের দৈনন্দিন জীবনে তাতে কিছুই এসে যায় না। তেমনিভাবে আমরা যদি নিজেরা নিজেরা খেয়োখেয়ি করে একে অপরকে শেষ করে দেই, তাতে সৌরজগতের কোন হিসেবেই কোন পরিবর্তন আসবেনা; পৃথিবী আগের নিয়মে একই গতিতেই ঘুরতে থাকবে, একই হারে দিন-রাত, জোয়ার-ভাঁটা, গ্রীষ্ম-বর্ষা-শীত আসতে থাকবে সহস্রাব্দের পর সহস্রাব্দ ধরে। নির্বিকার মহাবিশ্বের বয়েই গেছে তার কোন কোণায় কোন উইঢিবিতে কি হচ্ছে তার হিসেব রাখতে।

দ্বিতীয় বিষয়টি, যেটি সূক্ষ্মভাবে এ উপন্যাসের অন্যতম ‘এজেন্ডা’, তা হলো ভুল হাতে ভুল অস্ত্র চলে গেলে কি পরিনাম হতে পারে তার সতর্কতাবাণী। দরিদ্র এবং স্বল্পশিক্ষিত দেশগুলো বরাবরই বেপরোয়া এবং দায়িত্বজ্ঞানহীন আচরণ করে। বেশীরভাগক্ষেত্রেই এই দেশগুলোর দারিদ্র্য এবং স্বল্পশিক্ষার জন্য দায়ী দেশগুলোর রাষ্ট্রনায়ক বা নায়িকারা। এঁদের যদি আজ মারণঘাতী অস্ত্র এবং দেশের দারিদ্র্য মোচন-এ দু’টির মাঝে যে কোন একটিকে বেছে নিতে বলা হয়, চোখ বুঁজে বলে দেয়া যায় কোন দেশটির প্রধান কোন সুযোগটি বেছে নেবেন। আইন্সটাইন তাঁর বহু বৈজ্ঞানিক পরীক্ষা স্রেফ ‘থট এক্সপ���রিমেন্ট’ দিয়ে করেছেন। সেরকম একটি থট এক্সপেরিমেন্টই করা যাক। ধরুন, আপনি আইন্সটাইন এবং বাকস্বাধীনতাহীন, মানুষে মানুষে বিভাজন জিইয়ে রাখা এমন কোন একটি দেশের (কোন মহাদেশগুলোর কোন অঞ্চলগুলোর দিকে তাকাতে হবে সেটি সব্বাই জানেন) সাধারণ একজন রাজনীতিবিদকে (কিংবা ধর্মীয় নেতাকে) একটি ঘরে ডেকে নিয়ে যা নয় তাই বলে, চ-বর্গীয় শব্দের ফুলঝুরি ফুটিয়ে ইচ্ছেমতো গালাগাল করলেন। কার প্রতিক্রিয়া কেমন হবে? এঁদের দু’য়ের মাঝে সহনশীলতা কার মাঝে দেখার সম্ভাবনা বেশী? কে আপনার প্রতি বেশী হিংস্র আচরণ করতে চাইবে? সহনশীলতার এ পার্থক্যটি (যদি থেকে থাকে) কিসের দায়ে উদ্ভূত?

‘অন দ্যা বিচ’-এর সমালোচনায় আমেরিকান বৈজ্ঞানিক-গবেষক ক্রেসন কার্নি বলেছিলেন বইটি ‘অপবৈজ্ঞানিক’, নিউক্লিয়ার পরিস্থিতির সঠিক চিত্র তুলে ধরেনি, শ্যুটের বইটি নিউক্লিয়ার যুদ্ধ নিয়ে জনমনে ভীতিই শুধু সৃষ্টি করবে (নিউক্লিয়ার যুদ্ধ কখনো হলে বাঁচার জন্য কি করতে হবে সেটি নিয়ে কার্নির একটি বই রয়েছে, ‘নিউক্লিয়ার ওয়ার সার্ভাইভাল স্কিলস’ নামে)। আমার মতে, কার্নি বইটিকে একপেশে দৃষ্টিভঙ্গি থেকে দেখেছেন। এটি কোন বিজ্ঞানের বই নয়; বইতে বর্ণিত যৎসামান্য যে বৈজ্ঞানিক তথ্য রয়েছে তার ভুল-শুদ্ধ বিচার বইটির উদ্দেশ্যের সাথে সম্ভবত একেবারেই যায় না।

‘অন দ্যা বিচ’ পড়েছিলাম খুব সম্ভব মাস আষ্টেক আগে। অনেকবার এ বইটি নিয়ে লিখতে চেয়েছি, সাথে জুড়ে দিতে চেয়েছি বৈশ্বিক রাজনৈতিক অস্থিরতার কোন একটি তাজা সংবাদ, যেখানে কোন রাষ্ট্রনায়ক অপর দেশের রাষ্ট্রনায়ককে হুমকি দিচ্ছেন, কিংবা পাইকারী হারে মানুষ মারবার নতুন কোন অস্ত্র বানাবার ঘোষণা দিচ্ছেন, কিংবা বাণিজ্য চুক্তি বন্ধ করে দিতে চাইছেন, কিংবা…। আট মাসে অনেকবার এই লেখার উৎসাহে ভাঁটা পড়েছে, রাজনৈতিক অস্থিরতার তাজা খবরটি ইতোমধ্যে বাসি হয়ে নতুন কোন অস্থিরতার খবর চলে এসেছে, সেটিও বাসি হয়ে এসেছে আরেকটি, তারপর আরেকটি, তারপর আরেকটি…এ লেখার জন্য বুকমার্ক করে জমিয়ে রাখা খবরগুলো এক-দুই সপ্তাহেই হাস্যকর রকম ‘পুরনো’ হয়ে গেছে, কারণ প্রতি সপ্তাহেই কেউ না কেউ কাউকে না কাউকে মজা দেখিয়ে ছাড়বেন বলে হুমকি দিয়ে চলেছেন। এভাবে চলতে চলতে একসময় হয়তো কেউ তৃতীয় বিশ্বযুদ্ধ বাধিয়েই ছাড়বেন। তাহলে এ বই পড়ে আমার কি লাভ হলো? আমি সহনশীলতার একটা পাঠ পেলাম। গত আট মাসে অনেকবারই ধৈর্য্যচ্যুতি ঘটেছে, মনে হয়েছে এক্ষণি হাল্কের মতো একটা দানবিক পর্যায়ের ধ্বংসযজ্ঞ শুরু করে দেবো। ঠিক তখনি মনের কোণে শ্যুট এসে হাজির হয়েছেন তাঁর স্মিত হাসি নিয়ে, স্পষ্ট বাঙলায় তাঁকে বলতে শুনেছি, “এই তাহলে শিখলি তুই আমার বইটা পড়ে, শালা বর্বর পাষণ্ড?”!

সবাইকেই আসলে নিজের জায়গা থেকে একটু একটু করে চেষ্টা করে যেতে হয়। এজন্যই তো আমরা বই পড়ি, তাই না?
Profile Image for Dan.
1,135 reviews52 followers
June 7, 2020
My dear son,

It’s quite absurd that I should spoil the last days of your life by hanging on to mine, since it is such a burden to me now. Don’t bother about any funeral. Just close the door and leave me in my own bed, in my own room, with my own things all round me. I shall be quite all right.

In 1957 Nevil Shute penned this amazing post-apocalyptic novel.

Russia and China have started World War III and dragged the other superpowers into it. Within 30 days nearly ever atomic weapon in the world, thousands of them, have been launched and the world is now in Nuclear Winter.

The only humans left alive are those in the far Southern Hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand primarily, along with a submarine crew from the United States that holds the American Naval Commander Dwight Towers. But the fallout clouds are slowly working their way South. Most of those left realize that the end is drawing near and are most fearful of the radiation sickness that will overcome them.

Dwight is married and has a family in the United States but begins a relationship with Moira Davidson, a young Australian woman who lives near the naval base, where Dwight’s U.S. submarine is going through maintenance. He knows there is little chance that his family back in the U.S. survived the nuclear attacks.

Another major intersecting story is that of Peter Holmes, who leads Australia’s Navy, and his wife Mary who is pregnant with their first child. Peter and Dwight are by de facto the two men effectively in charge of the world. Their real power is limited to searching for life on other continents and preparing the people back home in Australia for what is coming their way.

The last major character is John Osborne, an Australian scientist who is knowledgeable about the effects of radiation. Oddly enough John and Dwight take up race car driving in their time back in Australia. Racing is the primary sporting diversion as the fallout approaches. Drivers are extremely reckless. In a gladiator like flourish it is thought to be far less painful to die in a crash than from the ensuing radiation poisoning.

The end of life decisions in this book are quite compelling largely because Shute is one of the best authors at writing convincing love stories. If this novel were just a sci-fi story focused on the science of radioactive fallout, which the author doesn’t get right, I don’t think it would have resonated so much.

5 stars. The drama in this story is subdued which I found convincing. Most of the characters forge ahead with quiet desperation. They even concern themselves with trivial things in the face of certain death. I tend to believe Shute’s portrayal in this book is similar to how people would behave in the actual event of total nuclear annihilation. At the very least it seemed plausible.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,042 followers
October 22, 2014
Well written & so plausible that it's scary, it's also survived the test of time very well. Written over 50 years ago in 1957 by engineer Nevel Shute Norman, an engineer who owned a firm that made secret stuff for the British government, it amazed me by how the politics & cause of the war are still so possible.

The book follows about 6 people for the last 6 months of their lives. There is no explicit sex or violence. The northern hemisphere has been turned into a radioactive wasteland & the radioactivity is slowly moving south. Australia has about 6 months to live & they know it. They keep their civilization going. No 'Mad Max' scenarios. Just law abiding folks who know the end is coming.

It's fantastic & horrifying & depressing, but also neat on several levels. Shute shows us people at their very best after the very worst has happened. The coping mechanisms they use & the little problems they have & overcome. it's quite a fantastic journey & well worth the time to read.

I've never seen either film made from the book & don't think I care to since they screwed up the endings according to Wikipedia.
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