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On the Beach by Nevil Shute - April, 2014  

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  1. 1. What did you think of this book?

    • 5/5 Loved it!
    • 4/5 Really liked it.
    • 3/5 Enjoyed it.
      0
    • 2/5 It was ok, or meh.
      0
    • 1/5 Really disliked it.
      0


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WELCOME, ONE AND ALL, TO THE APRIL 2014 READING CIRCLE

for

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

 

It is assumed that you have read the book before reading posts in this thread, as the discussion might give away crucial points, and the continuous use of spoiler tags might hinder fluent reading of posts :)

 

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Synopsis from Amazon:

 

Nevil Shute’s most powerful novel—a bestseller for decades after its 1957 publication—is an unforgettable vision of a post-apocalyptic world.
After a nuclear World War III has destroyed most of the globe, the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to everyone in its path. Among them is an American submarine captain struggling to resist the knowledge that his wife and children in the United States must be dead. Then a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from somewhere near Seattle, and Captain Towers must lead his submarine crew on a bleak tour of the ruined world in a desperate search for signs of life. Both terrifying and intensely moving, On the Beach is a remarkably convincing portrait of how ordinary people might face the most unimaginable nightmare.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I'll open with a very basic question.  What did you think of the book, in general?

 

And now we have the basic questions provided by BCF.....

 

1- Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked?

2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

3- Did you like the writing? What did you think of the way the story was told?

4- Was this the first book you've read by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

5- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

6- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

 

 

 

And add a few courtesy of  Sparknotes,     http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/onthebeach/study.html

 

 

 

How does Shute's writing style affect the mood of the novel?

 

 

Do you think the events of the novel are believable? Do you think the behavior of the characters in the novel is believable? Why or why not?

 

 

Why do you think Shute chose the title On the Beach? What is the significance of this phrase?

 

 

What is the significance of work in the characters' lives?

 

 

How has the definition of sanity changed in the aftermath of the nuclear war?

 

 

Discuss the role and imagery of nature in the novel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Please, don't think all questions must be answered in full.  :D

 

Any, all, parts, whatever you feel comfortable with is great!

 

 

 

Edited by pontalba

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What did you think of the book, in general?

I quite liked On the Beach. I read it for the first time for my English oral exam, in my sixth and last year of secondary school. I remember liking the book but didn't remember a whole lot of it before I started reading. As I read the book, I remembered more and more. I had a bit of trouble with the book at first, my copy is tattered and was awkward to hold. I had some trouble getting into the story. The characters didn't seem yet to care so much that they would die in nine months, and I had to get used to the time period (I don't read a lot of books set in the 1960s). Later on though the tension ramped up as we got closer and closer to the end. I loved the second half of the book, I'd rate that 5/5.

 

1- Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked?

I liked John Osborne (the scientist who likes to race), Peter (a kind man) and Dwight (he stays faithful to his wife). I didn't really like Mary, she seemed very passive and not wanting to believe their ultimate fate. Moira seemed allright, I didn't like her drinking but I liked her care for Jennifer, Mary's and Peter's baby daughter.

 

2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

I particularly enjoyed the part where John goes racing. I loved reading about the race (the heat where he has to qualify) and how it was described. I also really enjoyed the last part of the book and the ending, where the characters are coming to terms with their end.

 

3- Did you like the writing? What did you think of the way the story was told?

I liked it but in the beginning I felt I would've liked some more descriptions. Later on though I got more into the story and it didn't seem as important, I was able to visualise everything in my head. I liked the writing style.

 

4- Was this the first book you've read by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

I read the book once before, so I'm not sure how to answer this. It was the first book by this author but I'd read it before in my teenage years. I don't know of any other books by the author though it might be nice to look this up and see if there are any that appeal to me.

 

5- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

In the beginning I felt the characters didn't seem too bothered by their impending doom. They didn't panic but it took some of them a while to really believe it (that makes sense though I guess). I also would've liked to know more about the war and what happened to make it so. It's explained but not until a bit later on in the book. I also would've liked a map as some of the places mentioned I hadn't heard of.

 

6- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

Yes! I felt like crying after I was finished with it, the ending was so sad. It wasn't an easy book to read, it made me feel quite emotional. I enjoyed reading it though and am glad I re-read it. The book has some very powerful messages.

 

How does Shute's writing style affect the mood of the novel?

I'm not sure how to answer this at the moment :blush2:.

 

Do you think the events of the novel are believable? Do you think the behavior of the characters in the novel is believable? Why or why not?

I felt some of the characters' behaviour was more believable than others. Mary seemed to be denying it and not wanting to listen throughout most of the book. I guess that kind of makes sense perhaps. I found it strange that in the beginning the characters didn't seem to care so much about it yet, they didn't panic or anything. But maybe they're stronger than I would've been in that situation. I thought Dwight and John's behaviour seemed pretty believable, them wanting to die at sea in the submarine. Peter's reactions were very believable and he was very sweet towards his wife, dying with his wife and daughter when he might've had a little while longer to live. I admired that in him. I think nuclear war was quite a possibility back in the 1960s.

 

Why do you think Shute chose the title On the Beach? What is the significance of this phrase?

I didn't understand it at first, or back in my teenage years, but according to Wikipedia it means to be retired from military service. I've always taken the meaning literally and thought it was because the beach was significant throughout the book, they can see the beach ie. of the US, with the submarine but they can't go on land without risking themselves much. Several scenes take place on the beach too.

 

What is the significance of work in the characters' lives?

It seems very important to them at first, going in the submarine investigating things. Later on the men all take time off, which makes sense. Peter spends his time with Mary, and John goes racing. Dwight and Moira spend quite some time together. Moira works on the farm of her father but takes time off to spend with Dwight. Mary is a housewife, we didn't hear too much about her tasks at home other than tending to Jennifer (the baby).

 

How has the definition of sanity changed in the aftermath of the nuclear war?

The characters thought it was pretty stupid it all happened the way it did, and I agree. If you ask me, it would be good for the people in charge of the nuclear armaments or who are fighting in a war, to read this book, so it will hopefully never happen that we have a big nuclear third world war. Maybe I'm naive in this, and misunderstood the question, I'm not sure. Some of these questions remind me of school.

 

Discuss the role and imagery of nature in the novel.

Dwight and Moira go and visit a beautiful nature scene (I can't remember at the moment what it was). The animals also die from radiation, though it appears the rabbits may have last the longest. This question reminds me a lot of school, I'm not sure what's meant by it :blush2:.

 

Overall I quite enjoyed re-reading the book and am glad it was chosen for the reading circle. It makes you think about life and what you'd do if you had only little time to live, and how terrible it would be if everyone on the world would die because some people somewhere did something stupid (to paraphrase it in my teenage thoughts). I'm not sure what I would do. I think I would definitely panic and be very stressed. I like to think I'd spent the time doing things I love, such as spending time with the people and animals I care about, being on the forum and reading lots, possibly using some of my savings to go on a last little holiday somewhere. It's a very sad and emotional premise, and I hope it'll not come to pass (sometimes I'm afraid of things like this happening). So if I may add a question, how do you think it would affect you? I find it really scary to think about :hide:.

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As always, I've answered these without reading any replies (if there have been any yet - I've had this window open since before I went to work this morning at 5.40am!).  :)

 

1. Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked?

I actually liked all the characters in this book… to differing degrees.   I would say that Dwight, Peter and Moira were my favourites.  Dwight was loyal to his original family.  Despite the fact that they were dead and therefore he wouldn’t have been being unfaithful, he stayed faithful to his wife’s memory.  Frustrating to Moira, but commendable I think.   I liked Peter too – he was a great husband and a great work colleague with lots of admirable qualities.   Moira was ballsy!  I liked the way she changed throughout the novel, cutting down on her drinking and wild ways and yet still stayed true to herself.

 

2. Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

It’s difficult to single out parts – I found the whole novel very enjoyable.  I especially liked the section where the submarine went to explore for signs of life.  I enjoyed the part when the radar operator Ralph ‘jumped ship’ to spend his remaining time on his home soil.  Death was inevitable so he decided to spend his last hours in the place he loved and doing a hobby he loved - fishing.  I also liked when Sunderstom went ashore to investigate the mysterious signal that appeared to be transmitting from Seattle – but as I said, I liked the entire book!

 

3. Did you like the writing? What did you think of the way the story was told?

I loved the writing.   I think the story was told really well – one thing I particularly liked was the ‘tightness’ of the story – the writing is very succinct and clipped.  That’s not to say it’s lacking anything – far from it – but the author doesn’t waffle on about things and therefore the action moves quite swiftly.  Although it was written in 1957 and set in 1963 it didn’t feel too dated.  Some elements were, of course, but it could work as a contemporary novel with very little ‘tweaking’.

 

4. Was this the first book you've read by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

It wasn’t the first – see my answer to Q6.  :)

 

5. Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

Not really.  The idea of having to kill one’s baby with an injection is, obviously, unpalatable, but I think it was the right course of action.  I think, like Mary, I would have struggled with the idea and would probably also rely on my own husband to do the deed, but if push came to shove and I was alone then I’d like to think I’d have the strength to do it, knowing the alternative (just leaving the baby to die) was just not an option.

 

6. Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

Definitely, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Having enjoyed this and Pied Piper so much I’m definitely going to read more – I think I might try Requiem for a Wren next.  :)

 

7. How does Shute's writing style affect the mood of the novel?

I’ve partly answered this in Q3 but overall I think that despite the bleak nature of the novel, Shute makes the reader believe there might actually be a chance that these people will survive, even though we know that this isn’t possible.  I think it’s important because otherwise it might be hard, as a reader, to invest time in the characters and story.  I’m not sure if that makes any sense, but I know what I mean!   :P

 

8. Do you think the events of the novel are believable? Do you think the behaviour of the characters in the novel is believable? Why or why not?

I don’t know much about how a nuclear attack would work (apart from lying down in a ditch if I’m outside, or under a table if inside!  :P ) but it seems feasible to me that the epicentre of the bomb would be totally destroyed and that radiation would seep out from it in all directions.  I hadn’t really thought about it before reading the book but I liked the way it spread out meaning that those alive knew it was inevitable they would die and even had a rough idea of when from the sudden lack of communication from each newly affected area. The part where the Commanding Office at Brisbane sends a message to Dwight about his 'retirement' was particularly poignant.

 

9. Why do you think Shute chose the title On the Beach? What is the significance of this phrase?

I know from research before I nominated the book that 'On the Beach' means retiring from the Navy and that the title also comes from the poem The Hollow Men by T S Eliot.  I assumed from the title that the novel would take place at sea, on the coast or at the seaside – which it does!

 

10. What is the significance of work in the characters' lives?

Knowing they were going to die meant that work became pretty pointless.  And yet, they really had no option but to carry on living their lives as normally as possible.  I’ve always said that if I won the lottery (unlikely seeing as I don’t play!!) I wouldn’t be able to give up work entirely. I might change it to voluntary rather than paid, but I couldn’t sit and do nothing all day, every day.  I think this is a similar situation – you either sit round dwelling upon your fate or you carry on as normal with the vague hope, no matter how unlikely, that you will survive.

 

11. How has the definition of sanity changed in the aftermath of the nuclear war?

I’m not really sure I understand the question correctly, but if I’m interpreting it right I think it means the delusions the characters lived under.  This was particularly noticeable in the behaviour of Dwight.  He knew in his heart that his family back in America were dead, and yet he went to a considerable amount of trouble to buy gifts for them – including a really expensive bracelet for his wife.  Similarly Peter’s wife, Mary, seemed unable to believe or accept that the end was coming.  She went about her daily life actively planning for the future, planting daffodils, making Peter go in search of a garden bench for them to sit on ‘next year’.  Moira’s father too planned for the future, albeit that he eventually accepted the situation and instead his thoughts turned to what would happen to his animals, who would survive long after all humans had died.   Some of the characters seemed to deal with the inevitability of death better than others.   Whether that was a form of insanity is questionable though - I think it was more of a coping mechanism.

 

12. Discuss the role and imagery of nature in the novel.

Oh, this is a tricky one!  It is mentioned a few times in the book that the animals and plants will last longer than the humans.  I suppose that shows that whilst we might be considered to be of a higher order than them, the reality is that in a nuclear attack our superiority over animals and plants will not help us!  </lame>

 

I’m really pleased this book won (and not just because I nominated it).  It’s a very thought-provoking book.  I can’t help wondering whether people would carry on like the characters in the book.  I can’t help thinking that supplies might run out, especially these days when so much of our food is imported, but maybe if the bomb was dropped people really would carry on – I like to think so.  

 

If the bomb ever drops on us I’d like to end my life in the same way as Peter and Mary – with my husband, together in bed – although maybe with a large G&T instead of a cup of coffee!   :D

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What great and extremely thoughtful answers, both Gaia and Janet!  I love the details and appreciate the time you've both put into your answers.  :D

 

So, naturally, I have read the responses.  But I don't see that as an impediment to (my) original answers.  There is some wiggle room, but I don't think I'm influenced.  The truth is, I agree with about all of what you've both said.

 

Janet, that doesn't mean I don't agree with you about not reading the previous posts though.  That's the way I've done it before.  I didn't answer first this time, mostly because I felt I wanted to get others opinions out there first. 

 

On the question of sanity, I think both of you have something right.  Dwight, and.....really all the characters carried escapism to the Nth degree.  Planning for the next years crops, and as mentioned particularly Dwight's loyalty to what was obviously a dead family.  But I think he had to do that to preserve any shred of sanity in his situation.  If he'd allowed himself to think of them all dead, back home, he'd have come completely unglued.  He just couldn't deal with that, and Moira.......what tact and understanding she showed! And, he actually changed her way of thinking and life.  She straightened up and became what she was capable of being.  What a gift that was.  I loved the way Moira's dad planned for his livestock as far as he could, making sure they were not penned up and unable to range freely after the humans had died. 

 

The denial they all lived with was the only thing that sustained them.  But I really appreciated the way Shute didn't dwell on the bad characters.....the drunken fights, and immoral behavior that he mentioned in passing, was just that.  In passing.  It didn't rule the day as it is in many later apocalyptic novels. 

 

I tend to think of Shute's writing style as "stiff upper lip". :)  And love it.  Spare and matter of fact.  This is the way it is, and that's that. 

 

I'm definitely going back to reread A Town Like Alice, and thanks to poppy, I've bought Requiem for A Wren.

 

Thanks so much for your great responses!  :readingtwo:  :D 
 

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So, naturally, I have read the responses.  But I don't see that as an impediment to (my) original answers.  There is some wiggle room, but I don't think I'm influenced.  The truth is, I agree with about all of what you've both said.

 

Janet, that doesn't mean I don't agree with you about not reading the previous posts though.  That's the way I've done it before.  I didn't answer first this time, mostly because I felt I wanted to get others opinions out there first.

I didn't mean to imply that others shouldn't read the replies before answering - sorry if it came across that way. I usually reply without seeing the other answers and some of these questions needed serious thought. :D

 

I tend to think of Shute's writing style as "stiff upper lip". :) And love it. Spare and matter of fact. This is the way it is, and that's that.

It's exactly like that! His writing very much reminds me of John Wyndham's style. :)

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I have been so excited to discuss this book.  I didn't read anyone else's comments so I could give an unbiased opinion.


 


What did you think of the book, in general?


Well, as I'm sure some of you may have noticed, I absolutely loved this book.  I wasn't sure what to expect, as I'd never heard of the book or the author.  Truthfully, the blurb on the back cover left me a bit lukewarm, so I put off reading it even after I checked it out of the library.  Once I jumped in, however, I was quite pleasantly (if that's the best word) surprised.  Beautiful writing, memorable characters, unforgettable story -- it had it all.


 


Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked?


This is a hard one because I felt that all of the characters were so well-written.  If I had to choose, though, I would say Moira.  She had so many facets to her personality; I really enjoyed watching her unfold.


 


Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?


Did you like the writing? What did you think of the way the story was told?


So, I'm going to combine these.  I loved the way the story built, layer upon layer, and then washed away until it lay bare at the end.  I've never read anything like that.  I found his storytelling to be quite masterful.


 


Was this the first book you've read by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?


Yes it was.  I enjoyed it so much that I really am keen to check out some of his other pieces.


 


Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?


This might seem silly, but if I had about a year left knowing that a death cloud was approaching and that it would all have dissipated in five years, I would be digging myself a bunker, not laying in wait out in the open. However, I say this in an age where post-apocalyptic novels abound, there are tv shows called Doomsday Preppers, and there are dozens of companies specializing in end-of-the-world survival not to mention that bunker construction and supply procurement would have ruined the whole thing.


 


Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?


Five stars.  I loved the story, the writing, everything.  Even without a bunker.  ;)


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I didn't mean to imply that others shouldn't read the replies before answering - sorry if it came across that way. I usually reply without seeing the other answers and some of these questions needed serious thought. :D

 

It's exactly like that! His writing very much reminds me of John Wyndham's style. :)

 

Yes!!  Wyndham.  Exactamundo!!  :cool:   I was imprinted with Wyndham, quite early on in life.  :readingtwo:

 

 

dtr...I think, in many ways Moira was the one that changed the most.  I like to think that people don't actually "change", I prefer to think that they are able, somehow, to come back to their own self.  Their true self.  And I think she did. 

 

And, good point!  Why was no one building shelters, underground?  For some parts of the world, there certainly was time enough.  Although, what condition would the earth been in at the end of the five years.....wouldn't the ground been saturated with radioactivity?  So, maybe it was best not to, and the route they took, enjoying the last bit as much as they could.

 

Since you liked this book so much, have you read any of John Wyndham?  Day of the Triffids, Day of the Triffids, Day of the Triffids..... :jump:

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So do you think I should read Day of the Triffids?  Lol.  I actually haven't read anything by him before.  I'll have to check it out. :)

 

Now I've gone back and read a few responses which triggered a few more thoughts...

 

For work, I see it as an anchor to normalcy - a way for them to maintain a hold on who they were and the way things were, no matter how tenuous.  So many people define themselves by their work; I don't think that would have been any different back then.  If your work is who you are, it would be very difficult to let go of that.  

 

Think of the tram car operator.  He made such an impression on me. I don't have the book in front of me, and I'm not one for remembering exact details, but his whole idea that this is who I am, this is what I do and nothing is going to change that.  I find that to be so honorable.  Also, the comfort it brought was almost tangible.  It made me think of Hiroshima, how within days of the bombing, the people of that city cleared enough track to get the trams up and running.  The city was flattened, their food and water were contaminated, those who survived were dying a horrible death, but somehow they managed to do this one thing.  At least there was that - the hope and comfort something so normal amidst a reality that was anything but, and a small way to find order in a world so hopelessly out of control.

Edited by dtrpath27

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Okay, another thought...I told you I've been dying to discuss this!

 

One particular scene that was quite thought-provoking to me is the one where they were discussing how the tragedy happened to begin with. How quickly things escalated, people died, and before they knew it, some office-boy intern type is the one with the codes to destroy humanity.  There are safeguards in place.  There is a chain of command.  What happens, though, when the chain of command breaks down?  We're lulled into a sense of security that there are plans upon plans, but the best laid plans can be laid to waste.  One just has to look at any disaster in recent history to see how quickly things can fall apart and that maybe we're not all as secure as we think.  What would happen if there was a disaster like any of those happened on a global scale?  Is there really any control at all, or just the illusion of it?

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dtr...I think, in many ways Moira was the one that changed the most.  I like to think that people don't actually "change", I prefer to think that they are able, somehow, to come back to their own self.  Their true self.  And I think she did. 

 

 

 I have to say that I agree with you.  I think that the Moira we saw at the beginning was just a defense mechanism.  Yes she was free-spirited and fun-loving, but at her core she was so much more.  It took the end of the world and a man she couldn't have to give her the strength to see for herself who she really was.  I think that was the key, seeing it for herself.

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So do you think I should read Day of the Triffids?  Lol.  I actually haven't read anything by him before.  I'll have to check it out. :)

 

Now I've gone back and read a few responses which triggered a few more thoughts...

 

For work, I see it as an anchor to normalcy - a way for them to maintain a hold on who they were and the way things were, no matter how tenuous.  So many people define themselves by their work; I don't think that would have been any different back then.  If your work is who you are, it would be very difficult to let go of that.  

 

Think of the tram car operator.  He made such an impression on me. I don't have the book in front of me, and I'm not one for remembering exact details, but his whole idea that this is who I am, this is what I do and nothing is going to change that.  I find that to be so honorable.  Also, the comfort it brought was almost tangible.  It made me think of Hiroshima, how within days of the bombing, the people of that city cleared enough track to get the trams up and running.  The city was flattened, their food and water were contaminated, those who survived were dying a horrible death, but somehow they managed to do this one thing.  At least there was that - the hope and comfort something so normal amidst a reality that was anything but, and a small way to find order in a world so hopelessly out of control.

 

Hah, yes!  Definitely read Triffids, post haste. :D 

Yes, the tram driver, but also, think of the race car driver, John Osborn.  He was doing what he loved, what he'd wanted to do all along but didn't due to sensible fear of death.  With that removed, all the stops were pulled. 

 

Dwight and Peter's wife...Mary were the most glaring examples of "carrying on".  Their anchors...and notice the ones that were out in the streets, drunk and disorderly...they were, I have to believe, that didn't hang onto "normalcy" and were simply losing their minds. 

 

I didn't know that about Hiroshima.  What a great thing. 

 

 

Okay, another thought...I told you I've been dying to discuss this!

 

One particular scene that was quite thought-provoking to me is the one where they were discussing how the tragedy happened to begin with. How quickly things escalated, people died, and before they knew it, some office-boy intern type is the one with the codes to destroy humanity.  There are safeguards in place.  There is a chain of command.  What happens, though, when the chain of command breaks down?  We're lulled into a sense of security that there are plans upon plans, but the best laid plans can be laid to waste.  One just has to look at any disaster in recent history to see how quickly things can fall apart and that maybe we're not all as secure as we think.  What would happen if there was a disaster like any of those happened on a global scale?  Is there really any control at all, or just the illusion of it?

 

Yes, I think of books like Seven Days in May and the like.  Just who is running the show. 

 

 

 I have to say that I agree with you.  I think that the Moira we saw at the beginning was just a defense mechanism.  Yes she was free-spirited and fun-loving, but at her core she was so much more.  It took the end of the world and a man she couldn't have to give her the strength to see for herself who she really was.  I think that was the key, seeing it for herself.

 

In the beginning she was using sex and alcohol as her "drugs of choice".  Dwight made her see that she didn't need that, she only needed to put some sort of real order into her life.

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What did y'all think of Shute's explanation of how the radiation was spreading over the globe? 

 

Dwight was not really deluding himself, he understood the reality and kept readjusting himself.  How do you think he was able to do that?  Discipline, or just his nature?

 

I wondered how it must have felt to  Lt. Sunderstrom to go on land and find such an innocent and strange thing to be "sending" the signal.  We know he couldn't have run into any live people, but the hope was still there.  It was like another death.

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Quoted from Athena:  1- Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked?
"I liked John Osborne (the scientist who likes to race), Peter (a kind man) and Dwight (he stays faithful to his wife). I didn't really like Mary, she seemed very passive and not wanting to believe their ultimate fate. Moira seemed allright, I didn't like her drinking but I liked her care for Jennifer, Mary's and Peter's baby daughter."

----

I found Mary to be quite interesting.  I think with Mary, the denial was definitely a survival mechanism, but also, at some point, a conscious decision.  She was a new mother with her sweet little home, loving husband, and all the hopes and dreams that come with the territory.  It's one thing to know that you as an adult are to suffer a horrible fate, but to hold your newborn baby and know that she, too, has the same sentence with no chance at life or happiness would be enough to drive a person mad.  I think the reality was so unbearable, that she simply chose to ignore it completely so that she could give her child some semblance of the life that she wanted for her.  How determined she must have been!  I know someone who had quite a difficult life.  Often, he used to say "I didn't like reality, so I created one of my own."  It was either go mad, or only acknowledge what he was able to deal with emotionally.  I think that was Mary's burden as well.

Edited by dtrpath27

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What did y'all think of Shute's explanation of how the radiation was spreading over the globe? 

 

Dwight was not really deluding himself, he understood the reality and kept readjusting himself.  How do you think he was able to do that?  Discipline, or just his nature?

 

I wondered how it must have felt to  Lt. Sunderstrom to go on land and find such an innocent and strange thing to be "sending" the signal.  We know he couldn't have run into any live people, but the hope was still there.  It was like another death.

To me finding the source of the signal was like watching a candle burn out.  No matter how unlikely, it was a tiny beacon of hope, that one in a million chance that things weren't quite as grim as they knew in their hearts they were.  Such a poignant moment. Finding the source, I feel, was the beginning of the end.  

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Quoted from Athena:  1- Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked?

"I liked John Osborne (the scientist who likes to race), Peter (a kind man) and Dwight (he stays faithful to his wife). I didn't really like Mary, she seemed very passive and not wanting to believe their ultimate fate. Moira seemed allright, I didn't like her drinking but I liked her care for Jennifer, Mary's and Peter's baby daughter."

----

I found Mary to be quite interesting.  I think with Mary, the denial was definitely a survival mechanism, but also, at some point, a conscious decision.  She was a new mother with her sweet little home, loving husband, and all the hopes and dreams that come with the territory.  It's one thing to know that you as an adult are to suffer a horrible fate, but to hold your newborn baby and know that she, too, has the same sentence with no chance at life or happiness would be enough to drive a person mad.  I think the reality was so unbearable, that she simply chose to ignore it completely so that she could give her child some semblance of the life that she wanted for her.  How determined she must have been!  I know someone who had quite a difficult life.  Often, he used to say "I didn't like reality, so I created one of my own."  It was either go mad, or only acknowledge what he was able to deal with emotionally.  I think that was Mary's burden as well.

 

dtr, I was a little irritated with Mary.  I agree, it must have been absolute hellish knowing her baby would never have a life.

But the way she put responsibility onto her husband for the final injection just didn't sit right with me. 

 

As far as that goes there were several times when Peter put her off and didn't stay with her, as she needed, saying he had to go to the submarine, or to the office when it wasn't necessary.   He did truly redeem himself in the end though, and that was what counted. 

 

I think most of them created their own reality.  Dwight with his family at home, Mary with the planting, etc.  Moira and her father.  Although along with that Moira's father planned for the event of their deaths...by providing as much as he was able for his livestock.

 

John Osborne was one of the most realistic......he did what he'd wanted to do all along.....race, dare death to take him. 

 

The boy that jumped ship on the West Coast of the U.S. took his fate in his own hands.  They faced reality, as it was.

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What did you think of the book, in general?

 

I have loved Nevil Shute's writing for years. This is book is typical of his rather sparse economical style.


1- Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked?

 

I have neither a favourite, nor one I dislike.
 

2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

 

A rather odd question to ask given the subject matter of this book. 
 

3- Did you like the writing? What did you think of the way the story was told?

 

Yes, the story was told in a very sparse pared down prose, which particularly fitted the subject matter. This is Nevil Shute's normal style but here he was even sparser than usual telling the story with little in the way of 'prettiness'. This helps to put you in the mind set of the people of the story. There is nothing to do but wait. There is little information to be had, and what there is is all bad. 
 

4- Was this the first book you've read by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

 

No it wasn't the first. I think I read A Town Like Alice First and I think Trustee From the Toolroom
 

5- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

Nope. It isn't overall a very complex story.

 

6- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

Again a rather odd question. Can one legitimately enjoy reading a book like this? It feels a little bit like saying one enjoyed a funeral. 


How does Shute's writing style affect the mood of the novel?

I think his writing style reflects the mood of the people in the novel. 
 

Do you think the events of the novel are believable? Do you think the behavior of the characters in the novel is believable? Why or why not?

Yes very, but only I think in the context of the period of the novel. These days I think there is far more likely to be the kind of wild rampaging and rioting we see so often these days eg LA riots and more recently the London riots. 
 

Why do you think Shute chose the title On the Beach? What is the significance of this phrase?
 

"On the beach" has several different slang meanings from being unemployed (sailing slang), to being retired (navy), overland (airforce/pilots) and to being off-duty (navy circa WW2) and probably drunk. In a sense all meanings are applicable in the book. The people are unemployed, but working just enough to keep things going, are stuck on land (no ships or planes are functional), they are 'retired' from duty and life in a sense and are definitely passing the time drunk. 


What is the significance of work in the characters' lives?


No one has to, they do it to pass the time. Make-work in other words.


How has the definition of sanity changed in the aftermath of the nuclear war?

Now this is actually an interesting question. They are all insane. It isn't immediately obvious as they appear to be fairly normal, coping with an impossible situation with a stiff upper lip and just get on with it attitude, but in reality they are all quite insane. The calmness with which they all face their impending death is just a touch too calm. They don't ever really discuss the reality of the situation, even when they send out the ship and then the submarine to find out what is going on in the rest of the world, both doctor their reports to not reflect the reality of the situation. There is a consensus to simply not face it, acknowledge it, deal with it, consider it, and that is surely a form of insanity. When they do discuss it, it is with this cheery 'well we must get on with it' attitude combined with a sense of 'it will all be alright in the end' of course nothing will be alright. They are one of the last people on earth, there is no way out and no reprieve. 

 


Discuss the role and imagery of nature in the novel.

 

Nature is always described throughout the novel as cheerful, warm, reassuring and normal. It is a sharp contrast to the abnormal way they all interact with it.

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2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

CG Wrote: 

A rather odd question to ask given the subject matter of this book. 

In a way, yes.  However we can enjoy parts or aspects of almost any book, we can enjoy the style of writing, we can appreciate the context, or the settings that are written about.  I think that is more what that question is about.

 

 

 

5- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

CG Wrote:

Nope. It isn't overall a very complex story.

 

No, it wasn't, but there certainly are ideas and concepts that the reader must struggle with.  What about the decision by the government to supply the injections, and then the populations decision to or not to use those injections.  How would you feel about that?

 

Do you think the events of the novel are believable? Do you think the behavior of the characters in the novel is believable? Why or why not?

CG Wrote: 

Yes very, but only I think in the context of the period of the novel. These days I think there is far more likely to be the kind of wild rampaging and rioting we see so often these days eg LA riots and more recently the London

 

 

Agreed, that's partially what I was referring to when I mentioned Shute's (well, lets admit it) glossing over of the more sordid aspects of parts of the society. 

I think he almost had a Utopian view of the End.  Much was realistic, but of only one segment of society. 

 

 

Why do you think Shute chose the title On the Beach? What is the significance of this phrase?

 

CG Wrote:

"On the beach" has several different slang meanings from being unemployed (sailing slang), to being retired (navy), overland (airforce/pilots) and to being off-duty (navy circa WW2) and probably drunk. In a sense all meanings are applicable in the book. The people are unemployed, but working just enough to keep things going, are stuck on land (no ships or planes are functional), they are 'retired' from duty and life in a sense and are definitely passing the time drunk. 

 

Absolutely.  Great stuff, I wasn't aware of the other meanings. 

 

 

 

What is the significance of work in the characters' lives?

 

CG Wrote:

No one has to, they do it to pass the time. Make-work in other words.

 

 

In a way, yes.  But isn't that a way to keep the insanity at bay?  I felt that Shute was showing that (with reference to the above question) the people that held on, the ones that as you say, made work, were the very ones that held onto their basic selves.  The ones in the street, drunk and disorderly were the ones that were letting go and allowing their baser natures to surface, with a what the hell attitude. 

 

And to me, that attitude is just wrong, and lazy.  But maybe that was their true selves coming out, after all.

 

 

How has the definition of sanity changed in the aftermath of the nuclear war?

CG Wrote:

Now this is actually an interesting question. They are all insane. It isn't immediately obvious as they appear to be fairly normal, coping with an impossible situation with a stiff upper lip and just get on with it attitude, but in reality they are all quite insane. The calmness with which they all face their impending death is just a touch too calm. They don't ever really discuss the reality of the situation, even when they send out the ship and then the submarine to find out what is going on in the rest of the world, both doctor their reports to not reflect the reality of the situation. There is a consensus to simply not face it, acknowledge it, deal with it, consider it, and that is surely a form of insanity. When they do discuss it, it is with this cheery 'well we must get on with it' attitude combined with a sense of 'it will all be alright in the end' of course nothing will be alright. They are one of the last people on earth, there is no way out and no reprieve. 

 

 

They are all in a sort of denial, that doesn't make them clinically insane. 

I don't agree that they are too calm.  Some are barely holding it together, by the hardest of effort.  Humans can only handle so much, and facing the reality would have driven them insane, I think.

 

Discuss the role and imagery of nature in the novel.

 

CG Wrote:

Nature is always described throughout the novel as cheerful, warm, reassuring and normal. It is a sharp contrast to the abnormal way they all interact with it.

 

 

Yes, and probably made all the more beautiful by the reality of what was coming.

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CG, have you read any of John Wyndham?  His style, as we've mentioned in this thread, is very similar to Shute's style. 

And, Wyndham's endings are more on the hopeful side. :D

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CG, have you read any of John Wyndham?  His style, as we've mentioned in this thread, is very similar to Shute's style. 

And, Wyndham's endings are more on the hopeful side. :D

 

Many :) I don't really find their styles that comparable. John Wyndham uses far more adjectives :) He also writes a deeper book that explores more philosophical issues than Shute does. Shute really writes a small story about one or two individuals rather than grand scale books - A Town like Alice - there is really only person in the novel  - Trustee from the Toolroom - same thing. Ditto for several other of his books. His books are always about some one with more depth, more story than appears on the surface. They are all in a sense somewhat autobiographical.

 

As for Wyndham's endings being more hopeful ... well ... Day of the Triffids could be argued as being more hopeful - although he admits to the possibility of lawlessness and every man for himself. Although at the very end the survival of the human race is decidedly left in doubt.

 

The Midwich Cuckoo - more positive? Xenophobia taken to the extreme in which all the alien children are killed in 3 of the 4 places they have appeared and die mysteriously in the 4th. Not quite so positive outcome :)

 

I won't go through the rest :)

 

 

 

They are all in a sort of denial, that doesn't make them clinically insane.

 

I don't agree that they are too calm. Some are barely holding it together, by the hardest of effort. Humans can only handle so much, and facing the reality would have driven them insane, I think.

 

I think the shock did drive them all insane - 

 

Farmer to Peter:

 

 

"I was saying to the wife," the farmer remarked slowly, "if I had a little trailer like that I could make it

like a chair for her, put it on behind the push bike and take her into Falmouth, shopping. It’s mighty

lonely for a woman in a place like this, these days," he explained. "Not like it was before the war, when

she could take the car and get into town in twenty minutes. The bullock cart takes three and a half

hours, and three and a half hours back; that’s seven hours for travelling alone. She did try to learn to

ride a bike but she’ll never make a go of it, not at her age and another baby on the way. I wouldn’t want

her to try. Rut if I had a little trailer like you’ve got I could take her into Falmouth twice a week, and

take the milk and cream along to Mrs. Holmes at the same time." He paused. "I’d like to be able to do

that for the wife," he remarked. "After all, from what they say on the wireless, there’s not so long to

go."

 

 

 

Admiral to Peter:

 

 

The younger man said, "I know, sir. I’m very grateful for the opportunity." He hesitated, and then he

asked, "Will the ship be at sea for much of that time, sir? I’m married, and we’ve got a baby. Things

aren’t too easy now, compared with what they used to be, and it’s a bit difficult at home. And anyway,

there’s not so long to go."

The admiral nodded. "We’re all in the same boat, of course. That’s why I wanted to see you before

offering this posting. I shan’t hold it against you if you ask to be excused, but in that case I can’t hold

out much prospect of any further employment.

 

Peter musing to himself:

 

It should be all right for him to go, so long as nothing further went wrong. But if the electricity supply failed, or the radioactivity

spread south more quickly than the wise men estimated … Put away that thought.

 

Mary would be furious if he turned down this job and sacrificed his career.

 

Dwight:

 

 

In the tranquility of the church he set himself to think about his family, and to visualize them. He was,

essentially, a very simple man. He would be going back to them in September, home from his travels.

He would see them all again in less than nine months’ time. They must not feel when he rejoined them,

that he was out of touch, or that he had forgotten things that were important in their lives. Junior must

have grown quite a bit; kids did at that age. He had probably outgrown the coonskin cap and outfit,

mentally and physically. It was time he had a fishing rod, a little Fiberglas spinning rod, and learned to

use it. It would be fun teaching Junior to fish. His birthday was July the 10th. Dwight couldn’t send the

rod for his birthday, and probably he couldn’t take it with him, though that would be worth trying.

Perhaps he could get one over there.

Helen’s birthday was April the 17th; she would be six then. Again, he’d miss her birthday unless

something happened to Scorpion. He must remember to tell her he was sorry, and he must think of

something to take her between now and September. Sharon would explain to her on the day, would tell

her that Daddy was away at sea, but he’d be coming home before the winter and he’d bring his present

then. Sharon would make it all right with Helen.

He sat there thinking of his family throughout the service, kneeling when other people knelt and

standing when they stood. From time to time he roused himself to take part in the simple and

uncomplicated words of a hymn, but for the rest of the time he was lost in a daydream of his family and

of his home. He walked out of the church at the end of the service mentally refreshed.

 

These are normal? 

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Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

This might seem silly, but if I had about a year left knowing that a death cloud was approaching and that it would all have dissipated in five years, I would be digging myself a bunker, not laying in wait out in the open.

 

That's interesting - it didn't even cross my mind that anyone might choose to want to survive in a world after nuclear attack.  :) 

 

I think I'd prefer to take the hands of my loved-ones and run towards the centre of the blast.

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1- Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked?  Dwight (probably) was my favourite.  I liked Moira too...I think her behaviour was understandable under the circumstances.  There were no characters I actively disliked, but I wasn't overkeen on Mary.

 

2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?  The race.  What I found interesting was how people died during the race, and spectators were quite blasé about it, because they all knew it wasn't going to be long before they all died anyway.  In fact, in a way it was a kind of choice to die doing something they enjoyed, rather than dying of the radiation.

 

3- Did you like the writing? What did you think of the way the story was told? Yes, I liked the writing, although I thought it was a bit dated.  I enjoyed the way the story was told, although I didn't think it was entirely believable.  Everyone was so dignified and respectful in the face of death, and sadly I fear that in reality there would be anarchy, rioting and looting.  So it didn't strike me as realistic in the way that other dystopian novels have.

 

4- Was this the first book you've read by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?  Yes, it was the first book I've read by this author.  I wouldn't rush out to read more books by Nevil Shute, but equally it didn't put me off reading more by him (that kind of reads like a politician's reply :D)

 

5- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with? Not really.  As with all books, I enjoyed some parts more than others, but there were no bits that seemed tedious.

 

6- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?  I'd give it 7/10, so yes pretty enjoyable.

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Everyone was so dignified and respectful in the face of death, and sadly I fear that in reality there would be anarchy, rioting and looting. So it didn't strike me as realistic in the way that other dystopian novels have.

 

 

It is this particular point that makes me argue for them all having gone a bit round the bend - to use another WW2 phrase (which is also the title of another of Nevil Shute's books :) ) The origin of which I have always found fascinating. Harpic - a well known toilet cleaner brought out their first advert with the tag line 'cleans right round the bend' and for the first time there was an active embracing of psychology / psychological warfare during WW2. These two factors came together and resulted in the saying that people were 'around the bend' or not quite sane. 

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Many :) I don't really find their styles that comparable. John Wyndham uses far more adjectives :) He also writes a deeper book that explores more philosophical issues than Shute does. Shute really writes a small story about one or two individuals rather than grand scale books - A Town like Alice - there is really only person in the novel  - Trustee from the Toolroom - same thing. Ditto for several other of his books. His books are always about some one with more depth, more story than appears on the surface. They are all in a sense somewhat autobiographical.

 

As for Wyndham's endings being more hopeful ... well ... Day of the Triffids could be argued as being more hopeful - although he admits to the possibility of lawlessness and every man for himself. Although at the very end the survival of the human race is decidedly left in doubt.

 

The Midwich Cuckoo - more positive? Xenophobia taken to the extreme in which all the alien children are killed in 3 of the 4 places they have appeared and die mysteriously in the 4th. Not quite so positive outcome :)

 

I won't go through the rest :)

 

 

I think the shock did drive them all insane - 

 

Farmer to Peter:

 

 

"I was saying to the wife," the farmer remarked slowly, "if I had a little trailer like that I could make it

like a chair for her, put it on behind the push bike and take her into Falmouth, shopping. It’s mighty

lonely for a woman in a place like this, these days," he explained. "Not like it was before the war, when

she could take the car and get into town in twenty minutes. The bullock cart takes three and a half

hours, and three and a half hours back; that’s seven hours for travelling alone. She did try to learn to

ride a bike but she’ll never make a go of it, not at her age and another baby on the way. I wouldn’t want

her to try. Rut if I had a little trailer like you’ve got I could take her into Falmouth twice a week, and

take the milk and cream along to Mrs. Holmes at the same time." He paused. "I’d like to be able to do

that for the wife," he remarked. "After all, from what they say on the wireless, there’s not so long to

go."

 

 

 

Admiral to Peter:

 

 

The younger man said, "I know, sir. I’m very grateful for the opportunity." He hesitated, and then he

asked, "Will the ship be at sea for much of that time, sir? I’m married, and we’ve got a baby. Things

aren’t too easy now, compared with what they used to be, and it’s a bit difficult at home. And anyway,

there’s not so long to go."

The admiral nodded. "We’re all in the same boat, of course. That’s why I wanted to see you before

offering this posting. I shan’t hold it against you if you ask to be excused, but in that case I can’t hold

out much prospect of any further employment.

 

Peter musing to himself:

 

It should be all right for him to go, so long as nothing further went wrong. But if the electricity supply failed, or the radioactivity

spread south more quickly than the wise men estimated … Put away that thought.

 

Mary would be furious if he turned down this job and sacrificed his career.

 

Dwight:

 

 

In the tranquility of the church he set himself to think about his family, and to visualize them. He was,

essentially, a very simple man. He would be going back to them in September, home from his travels.

He would see them all again in less than nine months’ time. They must not feel when he rejoined them,

that he was out of touch, or that he had forgotten things that were important in their lives. Junior must

have grown quite a bit; kids did at that age. He had probably outgrown the coonskin cap and outfit,

mentally and physically. It was time he had a fishing rod, a little Fiberglas spinning rod, and learned to

use it. It would be fun teaching Junior to fish. His birthday was July the 10th. Dwight couldn’t send the

rod for his birthday, and probably he couldn’t take it with him, though that would be worth trying.

Perhaps he could get one over there.

Helen’s birthday was April the 17th; she would be six then. Again, he’d miss her birthday unless

something happened to Scorpion. He must remember to tell her he was sorry, and he must think of

something to take her between now and September. Sharon would explain to her on the day, would tell

her that Daddy was away at sea, but he’d be coming home before the winter and he’d bring his present

then. Sharon would make it all right with Helen.

He sat there thinking of his family throughout the service, kneeling when other people knelt and

standing when they stood. From time to time he roused himself to take part in the simple and

uncomplicated words of a hymn, but for the rest of the time he was lost in a daydream of his family and

of his home. He walked out of the church at the end of the service mentally refreshed.

 

These are normal? 

 

Yes, re Triffids, and as difficult as it is to say, yes for Midwich Cuckoos.....because of the positive long run ending for the Human Race.  Unfortunately those alien "children" were not going to allow humans to survive. 

 

Re dairy farmer to Peter....to my way of thinking, it's only realistic thinking.  And, sweet that the farmer would go to the trouble for such a short time for his wife.  That is love.

 

Admiral to Peter....Again, realism, facing the facts, not feeling sorry for ones self, all were in the same situation.  No one better than the next person. 

 

Peter musing to self....Frankly, I thought that a bit stupid.  There were several times I thought Peter was being selfish...I don't think he wanted to spend too much time at home.  I thought he used that career reasoning to hide behind.   Perhaps because it was too hurtful, and just too awful to contemplate his wife and child's death.  He was unable to face it full time, as his wife had to.  And I thought it unfair of him (to her). 

 

But the fact that he hid his remission from his wife....well, that could really go either way in my mind.  Either he wanted to do as she did, and for them to die together, but I think again he didn't want to survive with out them.  It would have been doubly awful for him. 

 

 

Re Dwight in the church.....To my way of thinking, that was all in the service of coping with an untenable situation.  He knew he couldn't go home, that there was no family to go back to.  He was not deceived, he well knew they were dead.  No hope.  So what?  To think constantly of his loved ones, and the death they suffered would have driven him crazy.  Truly crazy. IMO

 

Normal?  Well, in my opinion, yes.  Normal in an extremely abnormal situation.  What else were they supposed to do?  Run out in the street, crying, shouting and railing against Fate?  Sit in a corner and waste away with a depression so deep they couldn't see over the edge?  Stay drunk for the duration?  Fat lot of good that would have done!

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That's interesting - it didn't even cross my mind that anyone might choose to want to survive in a world after nuclear attack.  :)

 

I think I'd prefer to take the hands of my loved-ones and run towards the centre of the blast.

 

I can see it either way, really.  I've often thought whilst reading these books, the genre in general, that I'd rather not survive in that sort of world.  And, really, how many of us could do it?  We just are not tough enough and would be victimized by the stronger ones with guns. 

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