On the Beach - A Book Dialogue

I recently finished Nevil Shute's On the Beach. This book was written in 1957 amidst the Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation. It has been made into two movies, one in 1959 starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire and a smaller budget film in 2000. Shute was a bestselling writer in his time. "In 2007, Gideon Haigh wrote an article in The Monthly arguing that On the Beach is Australia's most important novel." (From the Wikipedia article on Nevil Shute.)

It's now probably categorized as science fiction, but there really is no impossible science throughout the book. At the time it was written, it was an expression of the fears of many. Now, it is more of an alternative fiction, which is really what all fiction is anyway, of what the world would have been like if a nuclear war had broken out. To not get into the details too much, the story centers on Australia after a nuclear war had totally destroyed the northern hemispehere. Slowly, the radiation spreads south. Shute focuses on a group of people located in Melbourne who know that they are going to all die soon from radiation poisioning that is spreading south. It sounds bleak and depressing, which it is. The sadness of the book is the only reason I did not give it a perfect rating. It is excruciatingly sad.

As for the themes, the book tackles suicide. The government manufactured pills for people to take once they began to show signs of radiation sickness. There would be no possibility of recovery once the radiation started poisoning people; nobody could win this battle with death. Through the story, Shute asks, "Would suicide in such a situation be okay?"

The book made me wonder (not that my little bout with cancer hasn't also done this) if I am doing what I would like to do if I knew that I would die in three months. The people in the book were forced to ask this. In the book, most of the people just kept on doing what they had already been doing. I think I would do the same. I fell I am where I am supposed to be working toward where I am supposed to go. I wouldn't mind reforming the church I go to or planting a fresh start that would exhibit the love of Christ to one another and the community around them if reformation is not possible. We always think that we have all the time in the world to get things done right, but we just might not. We're frail creatures who are just blessed with a little time to share with one another here on earth. The only vain things that I I would like to do before I die is go to a Jack Johnson, Derek Webb, and, after last night's Last Comic Standing, God's Pottery concert. A trip to China and Japan would also be nice, but I would not want to leave any bills behind for Lindsay to pay.

In the end, the book really caused me to examine what should be valued in the world we live in. I think I am a better person for having read this book.

Entertaining: 4/5
Inspiring: 5/5
Ethical Thinking: 5/5

This book was so depressing that I do not know if I will ever read it again. I will definitely keep this book. It was great to read and challenging to my thoughts. It would also be a great discussion starter.