On the Beach by Nevil Shute


On the Beach


It’s been a few days since I finished this book yet I still don’t know how to articulate my thoughts on this book. This book took me by surprise on many levels; I wasn’t expecting that I would be moved and be on the verge of tears by this post-apocalyptic novel. Yet the latter half, particularly the last chapter cannot be read without a poignant, heart-wrenching grief over the recognition “the world is going to end.”
It was such a blow to me.

I wasn’t quite sure where I was standing in the story at the beginning; I didn’t quite understand what was going on in the story, say, the war situation and everything; who started the war and who actually dropped the cobalt bomb – the very culprit of the consequence the people in this story will have to bear – there was a lot to take in and it kind of stumped me in the beginning. As per usual, I had to do a lot of tabbing and taking notes to help myself keep track of the story.

Mind you -there is not much going on in the first half. There are, at times, some hard-hitting moments and heart-wrenching revelations that hint the grim future that awaits the people in the Southern Hemisphere, but I must say what you will find in the first half are just descriptions of the banality of everyday life.  If you expect a frantic, chaotic situation and a lot of panic-induced incidents happening in the story, you might be a bit disappointed because there’s hardly ANY.
That said, the bleak recognition and realization gradually yet steadily creeps in as you get into the latter half and I think that’s where the story gets riveting.
Even at this point, where the Australians try to come to terms with the grim promise of the future – their doomsday – they don’t go panicky nor become reckless.
They just calmly face their fate and keep living their lives as they used to. Some may still find it hard to come to grips with, they just refuse to believe their life is going to end in the next six months, but some do accept their inevitable death without flinching, and they even prepare themselves for ‘the time.’  This is what struck me the hardest.

The writing is generally calm and collected throughout, there are hardly any over-the-top, exaggerated descriptions. Rather, I felt the author chose to put the simple facts without attaching any emotions to them, laying them out throughout the book and letting the readers and the characters take them in.
That’s actually what heightened the poignancy for me. By dedicating the first half to showcasing what their normal life is like, the stark contrast of the hopeless, sobering future is effectively highlighted; as the lethal fallout from the cobalt bomb drifts towards the Southern Hemisphere, the despairing outlook slowly crawls not only into the characters mind but also the readers’ mind and what slim glimmer of hope they have is stubbed out like a cigarette.  I thought it was really well done.

Although I didn’t get to emotionally connect to any of the characters, I enjoyed this story immensely. I think this is definitely plot-driven, not character-driven but I think this will please many readers who usually go to character-driven stories as well because the plot is amazingly well-crafted. I liked it so much.

This book is not your average apocalyptic novel, it’s not like your average hooks-you-on-adrenaline type of book with lots of exciting, thrilling twists. But it will definitely make you THINK about what you would do when you faced the end of your life, on your last day on earth. I highly recommend this.


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