Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Post-apocalyptic novels were quite popular when I was a kid and I read many of them. I guess it is a product of growing up during the Cold War. It is hard to say how much a person is affected by knowing there are nuclear weapons pointed at you at all times, but I think like most kids I was generally more preoccupied with the normal day-to-day, fighting with my younger brother, worrying about grades at school and so on. The books themselves generally made for a good yarn and probably were fascinating in the way that a good thriller or horror novel is fascinating.
Apocalyptic books come and go, besides. I recently picked up Children of God by PD James and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I guess the end of the world never goes out of style.
This week I was trolling the give-away pile outside my local used bookstore and found a copy of On the Beach, by Nevil Shute. It was published in 1957 and there was also a movie made starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins. I wonder if Astaire managed to dance in it. I decided to revisit the book to see if more than 30 years later, I still liked it.
The writing is a bit stiff at times but the more I read the more gripping I'm finding the story. It isn't the usual, disaster survivors struggling to live against the odds, story. It is a quiet book about a group of Australians and Americans waiting for the end as radiation clouds drift toward the south from a northern hemisphere that has already been obliterated. It is the quietness that makes for the creepy shivers up the spine, not the horrors which are largely not portrayed. The characters throw parties, garden and picnic while they anticipate an unpleasant death from radiation sickness.
The other book I remember from this period in my reading life is Fail-safe (the basis for the movie Dr. Strangelove, but without the humor). Maybe I'll have to pick that up next. I'd be curious if any one else has read these books. I doubt so if you are under 35 or so. It's a good read if you don't mind a tear jerker and can find a copy. I might try to locate the movie too.