‘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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Novel Romance

I love finding new novels to read, new authors whose previous publications I didn’t know existed and have not yet read.  I find life mixed into these stories, the full panoply of humanity.  I came across this passage recently and it struck me forcefully for the way in which we now, online and face to face, communicate differently:

“What is this rating, a sex appeal thing?”  I asked him once.

Steve tried to persuade me it was more innocent than that.  “It’s more like, do they show up on time, can they keep their end of a conversation, are they clean?  Do they spend all their time checking their phones?”

“You check your phone constantly.”

“That’s because you’re a friend,” he said.  “I would never behave that way with a virtual friend.  It kills your rating.”

“Well, where do I get to rate you?”

“You only get to rate me if you respond to one of my posts.  But you never would.  You’re a Luddite.”

A wonderful exchange between the main character and a friend in Benjamin Markovits 2015 novel You Don’t Have To Live Like This.

I’m a good portion of the way through the above book at the moment and I’m really happy I tracked down a copy of this novel.  Lined up next to read is the Will Self’s Shark, a truly modern novel examining the threads of consciousness and time in an experimental format.

Thinking back to the beginning of this year, I had discovered Javier Marías, the eloquent Spanish author.  I’ve managed to read a number of his novels now (including A Heart So White, Tomorrow In The Battle Think On Me, When I Was Mortal) and I remain deeply in love with his style.

I’m looking forward to the second half of this year and to what authors may come.  What are you currently reading and why?