Sunday, February 02, 2014

Some passages from "On the Beach" ... the end of the world as we know it, down under

2014.01.30-IMG_8150On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute is possibly one of the first novels set in Australia that I read, probably back around 1975 or 1976, I read it during a period when I was working my way through various apocalypse novels (Fail Safe, Alas, Babylon, etc.). Perhaps the most meditative of them, it is also the most calmly intense as the residents of Melbourne and a few Americans (from the nuclear submarine USS Scorpion) slowly await death as radiation makes its way down from the northern hemisphere.

From On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Northern hemisphere people seldom mixed well, now, with people of the southern hemisphere. Too much lay between them, too great a difference of experience.

He shook his head. “Not a thing. It’s the winds. It’s mighty difficult to dodge what’s carried on the wind. You just can’t do it. You've got to take what’s coming to you, and make the best of it.”

It told him that a civilian scientific officer of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation had been ordered to report in Scorpion for scientific duties. This officer would be under the command of the Australian liaison officer in Scorpion. His name was Mr. J. S. Osborne.

At the corner of Swanston and Collins Streets an Italian was playing a very large and garish accordion, and playing it very well indeed.

It wasn't the big countries that set off this thing. It was the little ones, the Irresponsibles.”

2014.01.30-IMG_8195 I think the next step is that I call a conference with C.S.I.R.O. and anybody else who may be concerned.

“I don’t knit. I don’t do anything restful. You ought to know that by now.”

The news did not trouble her particularly; all news was bad, like wage demands, strikes, or war, and the wise person paid no attention to it.

2014.01.30-IMG_8152 After lunch, smoking before they did the washing up, she said, “I don’t think I want to go to Melbourne again, Peter.” He smiled. “Getting a bit piggy, isn’t it?” “It’s horrible,” she said vehemently. “Everything shut up, and dirty, and stinking. It’s as if the end of the world had come already.” “It’s pretty close, you know,” he said.

The human race was to be wiped out and the world made clean again for wiser occupants without undue delay. Well, probably that made sense.

“I’m going home,” he said quietly. “This is a grand country, and I've liked it here. But it’s not my country, and now I’m going back to my own place, to my own folks. I like it in Australia well enough, but all the same I’m glad to be going home at last, home to Connecticut.” He turned to her. “I shan’t see this again, because I’m going home.”

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