Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ON THE BEACH by Nevil Shute Kirkus Star


by Nevil Shute

Pub Date: July 24th, 1957
ISBN: 0307473996
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

In 1939 Nevil Shute wrote a horrifyingly prophetic book, , which made the life of the average citizen under bombardment only too real, as time proved. In 1954 Philip Wylie wrote a grisly story of what the future might hold for an unprepared citizenry in Tomorrow. And now comes Shute again with a portrait of the last stand of mankind against an enemy over which there was no control- radiation, gradually encompassing and destroying the world. There has been a brief atomic war, launched by two nations and resulting in mutual destruction within a brief month. But then the real catastrophe comes, as the death dealing effects encompass the living world. In Australia, where only the upper fringes so far lie within the circle, the people of the community of which he writes have exact scientific knowledge of when their doom will descend. To some it brings cessation from all activities; to others, indulgence in excesses of one kind or another; to still others, refusal to face the inevitability of the end, and a grim determination to go on as if next Spring would find the blooming of bulbs planted in the Fall -- and they there to see it. In the harbor is the one known surviving submarine of the U S A Navy. This submarine is sent on an expedition to determine through periscope and radar, what is behind the continued sending from a Puget Sound post. One sailor jumps ship- and goes back to his home. He is not allowed back, because of contamination; but his report is part of the record. The dead- caught in their daily round of living; no sign of life. But he has chosen. He prefers to meet his end, fishing familiar waters of his youth. The people of the story are very real; their tragic awareness becomes the possession of the reader. One hopes- to the end- for a miracle. But there is no miracle. It is an obsessive, nightmarish book, the more so because it is written on almost a deadpan level of narration, deliberately shorn of histrionics.