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At the Book Fridge I met a man unloading cartons of books.  He was emptying a library, and had the complete works of Nevil Shute, all hard cover with a ribbon marker.  I saw a copy of “A Town Like Alice”, took that, then asked him if he had “On the Beach”, which he duly produced.

It’s a long time since I’ve been so engrossed in a book by a male author.  This may be partly due to memories of reading the book back in the 1960s.  Possibly I enjoyed his books as a teenager because he was Australian.  At that time there were few authors writing about this side of the world (I hadn’t yet learned of Jane Mander).  This week I devoured “On the Beach” within a few hours.  The story, set in 1963, deals with the aftermath of a nuclear war.  The northern hemisphere has been devastated, and radiation is inevitably creeping south.  The action, based around Melbourne, shows how different characters deal with their impending death.  Although some of the language is dated, e.g. women referred to as girls, the theme is highly topical, especially in light of recent actions by North Korea.  You know there is no chance anyone will survive, yet the tone of the book is not morbid, and the story is compelling.

There’s no publication date in this copy, which has original illustrations, but the first publication was in 1957.  As I read I had a strong memory of seeing the black and white 1959 film, especially the radio transmitter in Seattle.   This is a book which has aged well, and was a pleasure to meet again. I think I’ll find a place for it on my bookshelf rather than take it back to the fridge.  Now I’m wondering whether I could fit a nuclear holocaust into my short story exercise.

“No matter how well we’re resourced
we’d not escape a holocaust.”

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