On the Beach

On the Beach, by Neville Shute, is one of my very favorite books, and I keep thinking about re-reading it this summer. Like many of Shute's books, it's set in Australia.  The general premise is that there has been a nuclear war in the Northern hemisphere, and only people in the Southern hemisphere have survived.  But the winds are carrying radiation South, so the survivors know that it's only a matter of months before they will die of radiation sickness.  The story chronicles how an American Navyman, a twenty-something girl, a young couple with a baby, and a few others live and cope knowing humans are about to become extinct.

Sounds depressing, I know--and it is.  But Shute's characters are so real you could have a conversation with them.  There's a certain amount of, "We're going to be dead next month, so what do we have to lose."  But for the most part they stalwartly go on with their lives, and face death in a very courageous way.  I'm always crying by the end, but I'm always very proud of each of the characters as well--they are worthy representatives for the last of humankind.

I stumbled across this book in such an unremarkable way that I don't even remember where it came from.  After I read it, I couldn't believe Shute wasn't on a required reading list somewhere.  After I read a few more of his books I was even more surprised.  He is truly incredible, and very worth trying out sometime.