Monday, 4 September 2017

On the Beach

Finished August 29
On the Beach by Nevil Shute

I picked this up in the general store waiting for the ferry to Thetis Island and found it a fascinating read. First published in 1957, the novel is set in 1963, a year after the end of a short but terrible war. Over the first few pages, the reader learns of the extent of the war. It would appear that the war started with Albania, turned into an Israeli-Arab war, then a Russo-NATO war, then a Russo-Chinese war, and involved many nuclear weapons including cobalt bombs. Most of the northern hemisphere seems to be affected as no one responds to contacts the surviving American ships try to make. The ships' most senior officer gave the order to sail into Australian waters and place themselves under Australian command.
The main characters are mostly Australian, beginning with Peter Holmes, a Lieutenant Commander with the Royal Australian Navy and his wife of two years Mary. They have an infant daughter, Jennifer.
An American atomic-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Scorpion, survived the war and is now in Melbourne harbour, and in early 1963 Peter is asked to join it as a liaison officer. The captain of the Scorpion is Commander Dwight Towers, also a fairly young man, with a wife and two children back home in the US.
The reader gradually learns of the situation, the fuel shortage, the radioactive dust moving in the atmosphere, the expectations for the future. We see into the lives of Peter and his family, Dwight, and the young Australian woman Moira Davidson that the Holmes invite to help entertain the American when he visits the family on shore leave. We also see the young scientist John Osborne, a radiation specialist assigned to the submarine, and learn of his dreams.
Everyone had a life they were in the middle of living and we see how they adjusted to their new reality, how they changed as time went on, and the truth began to sink in.
In this time of war rhetoric and unstable leaders, it didn't seem like that outlandish a plot.

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