You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

On the Beach

Nevil Shute's On the Beach is a novel written in the 1950's about the aftermath of a nuclear war. It takes place in Melbourne, Australia where the residents are waiting for the winds to bring the deadly radiation south.

Peter Holmes is an officer in the Australian navy with a wife and baby daughter. He is assigned to a U.S. submarine under the command of Captain Dwight Towers. The Americans have placed their ships under Australian command since everybody in the U.S. and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is dead. Peter invites Dwight to visit him and his family, and also invites Moira Davidson, a young woman, to keep him company. Moira, a heavy drinker since the end of the war, gets along fabulously with Dwight, whose wife and family in Connecticut are dead. The two of them have a close relationship throughout the book, despite Dwight's insistence on remaining faithful to his wife. In fact, Dwight's steadfastness in holding to his rules is a central theme of the story. As the world falls apart around him, he clings to what he know.

Dwight and Peter take two trips in the submarine to test radiation levels around the world, along with a relative of Moira's named John Osborne. Their last trip is to the northeast Pacific, where they confirm that everyone is dead, and they lost one of their crew who wants to die in his hometown. They return with the somber news, and everyone is preparing for the worst. The radiation has moved continually southward, killing everyone in its path. People are dealing with it by acting as though there will still be a future. They plant gardens, fix up their houses, and even have a car race. Moira begins to sober up and takes classes to learn typing and shorthand.

People struggle with the decision to take the pills that will end their lives quickly. Nobody wants to die with the terrible symptoms they've heard about. Peter watches his wife and daughter pass away. The story ends as Moira drives to the ocean to catch a glimpse of Dwight's submarine as they take it out to sea to sink it.

This is not your average post-apocalyptic story. The whole story is about people dealing with the finality of death, not only their own but their civilization and the whole human race. Even pets and cattle are not immune. People deal with it in different ways. Dwight clings to the rules that he has lived his life by. His denial is almost pathological, but it lends him the strength to keep living. He acts as though his wife and children are still alive, even though he understands that everyone in the U.S. is dead.

The others all have their coping mechanisms. It is a grueling story to endure, and it makes one wonder how one would deal with such a horrendous fate. The characters are illustrated by their words and actions dealing with the inevitable winds. They live their life as best they can. The story is a bit dated in the attitudes and morals. I was half expecting some crazy scheme to solve all their problems, but they accept their fates. At the end, they start to drive their cars again, and it's both a refreshing reprieve from the coming fate, and an acceptance that there's nothing more to live for. B+.


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