I just finished reading On the Beach by Nevil Shute again. I shouldn’t have. I have some finance manuals to study and even if I read anything, it should have been books that people have lent to me and need to be returned soonest. But on Friday evening, I suddenly had the most desperate feeling to reread this book which I list as one of the best I’ve read.
It starts innocently enough. An Australian naval officer riding his bike into town to get milk and cream for his wife. Then as we read deeper, we find that him, all other Australians and inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere are living on borrowed time, waiting for death in a couple months time, brought to them by radiation fallout from nuclear bombs dropped in the Northern Hemisphere. We read about how some cope by drinking themselves into oblivion and how others find comfort in going about as if things were normal, planning for events that will never happen, or even if they do, the planners themselves won’t see because they’re dead. Like buying daffodil bulbs and planting them, saying with pleasure that they will bloom beautifully next year, nevermind that you’ll be dead in 5 months.
There is no hope for these people. No happy ending. No last minute reprieve from radiation sickness. We despair as we read that the radiation cloud comes ever nearer to Melbourne. How cities go out one by one. Rio de Janiero, Montevideo, Canberra. I think the last chapter was the most heartbreaking. Like the first time I finished reading, this time too I was in tears. The scenario isn’t too far-fetched. I just hope it never happens to us, any of us, but if it does we have the strength of character to rally till the end and to do the right thing. Amen.