On the Beach by Nevil Shute — Reviewed by Guy Portman
World War III has culminated in atomic bombs being dropped on the northern hemisphere. The radiation is spreading steadily southwards on the winds, decimating populations in its wake. Stationed in Australia is American submarine captain Dwight Towers. With his family back home presumably victims of the fallout, Dwight copes by pretending that they are still alive. One day an Australian member of the crew, Peter, invites him to stay at his house. It is here that Dwight meets Moira, a cheerful girl who drinks heavily in order to endure the escalating situation. The pair go on to enjoy a close, platonic relationship. But time is running out. Northern Australia is affected and the government are already handing out a drug to prevent the prolonging of radiation sickness.
Published in 1957 On the Beach is a cautionary and timeless post-apocalyptic novel whose central theme is an exploration of how people confront imminent death. The characters that populate this bleak book can be viewed as a microcosm of humanity. Its melancholic tone appealed to this reader, and he was impressed by the author’s adept characterisation and effortless ability to blend the everyday and extraordinary.