I finished reading On the Beach, just as Britain went into Covid-19 lockdown. Nevil Shute’s 1950s tale of Australians waiting for nuclear fallout, which has already killed most of the life on Earth, to arrive from the northern hemisphere seems remarkably parallel to life in a sporadic pandemic. And I loved it. The book that is, not Covid-19 lockdown.
There’s a story about an Australian naval officer and his wife and their domestic bliss, intertwined with a story of the captain of an American nuclear submarine and his newly found friendship with a feisty Aussie girl who loves a drink. And why wouldn’t you when the world is about to end? I have to say, Moira Davidson is one of my most favourite characters ever! She’s glib, independent, capable, and will always steer you towards the nearest bar or bottle whenever she can. Long live Moira!
As fuel has just about run out, the submarine is pretty much the only form of transport still operational, and the sailors head off on a couple of trips to see what’s going on in the world presumed dead. Shute’s descriptions of the apocalyptic results seen from the periscope counterpoint, or perhaps complement, the way Melbourne society has frayed and wanders confused. Some people continue to man their shops and go out for lunch, whilst some people race sports cars suicidally. There’s much discussion of the inevitable arriving, and how best to prepare, or how best to avoid preparing. They worry and hope and dance and pray. The whole thing reminded me a lot of the scene in The Young Ones where the aeroplane pilots discuss the worries of having a crash – “Best not to think about it, really”. I thoroughly recommend reading On the Beach whilst you wait for the Covid-19 fallout to get you!