From the age of 14 until I was 21 I read Lord of the Rings every Spring. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I made the connection with the season. There’s probably something deep and meaningful about Seasons and Age and the book itself and all that if I thought about it. But I don’t particularly want to. That was so long ago and a completely different era.
The book I want to talk about is Nevil Shute’s post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach (1957).
Why does is speak to me? The tragedy and the humanity. A total immersion in TS Elliot’s lines from The Hollow Men
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
From Wikipedia: The New York Times called it “the most haunting evocation we have of a world dying of radiation after an atomic war.
From The Atlantic: “Only a very humane writer could have told a story as desolate as this and made it seem at once so close and implacable. The book held a kind of cobra fascination for me. I didn’t want to keep on looking, but I did to the end.”
It’s an old book now and I understand the science on which it hinges is wrong, but for me that changes nothing. The story is set in Melbourne after a nuclear war, the hero is an American submarine captain, the heroine and Australian woman. It’s about how we face death and I like the way Shute has drawn his characters as they wait for the inevitable. To say it is ‘deeply moving’ doesn’t come near the impact this book has on me.
Two movies have been made – In 1959 starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardener and the other in 2000 starring Armand Assante, Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward. Both films were good and worth watching but they both changed the original story, watering down the ending. Even Gregory Peck is said to have objected to the changes, let alone Nevil Shute.
The epigraph from my 1958 reprint
Perhaps some of my friends prefer more cheerful books – lets go and see:
PS The 8th International Nevil Shute Conference is in Hobart this year, it’s called The Rainbow Connection in reference to the book he wrote set in the South West Wilderness region of Tasmania – The Rainbow and the Rose