27 March 2017

Review: On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Trade paperback, 312 pages
Published 2010 (originally 1957)

Previously read 2002/03(?) and October 2006
Acquired June 2016
Reread July 2016
On the Beach by Nevil Shute

In his book Rumors of War and Infernal Machines, Charles Gannon argues that "the discourse of nuclear literature has traditionally relied upon images because a personally meaningful quantitative assessment of the bomb’s annihilatory powers is impossible. Its size dwarfs and makes mute any discursive attempt to establish a connection between individual experience and the overwhelming total reality of a nuclear explosion." I definitely think this is true when it comes to On the Beach. It's the images that stuck with me between when I read this in high school (for class), reread it in college (for myself), and rereread it to teach it: the cloud of radioactive particles drifting south, the empty cities of North America, the seaman going out for one last fishing trip, the roads taken back over by horses. Shute's perspective on nuclear annihilation is oddly beautiful: even while nuclear war comes from the worst parts of our nature, he uses it to shine a light on our best parts. Everyone in this book does their duty up to the end, even those who didn't have any kind of duty to begin with. I started to cry when I read the last chapter, and that's the first time I've cried at a book in a long while. We no longer fear nuclear war the way we did in 1957, but the book is still a testament to how we all ought to confront death.

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