‘On the Beach’ Predicting the Future

Sometimes I read novels and often think that they hit the spot a bit too close to home.  This was the case recently as I came to the concluding pages of On the Beach, which was written by the novelist Nevil Shute Norway in the decades following World War Two.  The scene includes two of the main characters discussing the context for the apocalyptic situation that they face and openly lament the global use of nuclear weapons during an escalation of an international war:

“Couldn’t anyone have stopped it?”

“I don’t know… Some kinds of silliness you just can’t stop”, he said. “I mean, if a couple of hundred million people all decide that their national honour requires them to drop cobalt bombs upon their neighbour, well, there’s not much that you or I can do about it.  The only possible hope would have been to educate them out of their silliness.”

“But how could you have done that, Peter?  I mean, they’d all left school.”

“Newspapers”, he said.  “You could have done something with newspapers.  We didn’t do it.  No nation did, because we were all too silly.  We liked our newspapers with pictures of beach girls and headlines about cases of indecent assault, and no Government was wise enough to stop us having them that way.  But something might have been done with newspapers, if we’d been wise enough.”

Quoted from the novel One the Beach (1957), by Nevil Shute Norway.

It is a wonderful novel and a book that I highly recommend.  For me one of the most moving aspects of the characters portrayed throughout the text was their attitude and civility in the manner in which they led their lives, and how this civility influenced their actions throughout the novel despite the fact that they knew what was to come.

Next up on my reading list is a newly published novel that I have started reading earlier today entitled Here I Am, by the American author Jonathan Safran Foer.  Foer has previously released a clutch of interesting and diverse novels over the past decade and a half that have really captured my attention, especially his first novel Everything is Illuminated, which was published in 2002. Perhaps unwittingly I noticed that the Here I Am novel continues the theme of international and national destruction set in On the Beach.  Perhaps it is somewhat fitting considering the way 2016 has so far developed…

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