Nevil Shute - ON THE BEACH

Nevil Shute



Nevil Shute was born in Ealing/London on January 17th ,1899, and died in Melbourne on January 12th, 1960. He was a learned plane engineer, but later became an author. War and planes are common themes in his work. Some of his books are "Round The Bend", "The Chequer Board", "Pastoral", and "The Far Country". 


Peter Holmes: liasion officer in Melbourne

Mary Holmes: his wife

Jennifer Holmes: Peter's and Mary's  baby

Moira Davidson: a friend of the Holmses; loves Captain Towers

Captain Towers: Captain of the submarine USS Scorpion


The story is set in Australia after a nuclear war. First it had been a war betweem Russia and China, but then other countries had interfered. All these states had had nuclear bombs and had thrown them onto others.

In Australia the humans were still alive, but the whole northern hemisphere was dead.

Peter Holmes, who lived with his wife Mary and his baby Jennifer in Melbourne, got a job as a liasion officer on the submarine USS Scorpion under the command of Captain Towers. Their charge is to look for signs of life in the north.

Peter invited Towers to Mary's and his party. There Towers met Moira Davidson, a friend of Mary's.

On the next day the started their cruise. John Osborne, a scienstist, who had to investigate the radiation level, was with them, They observed many cities, but the did not find any sign of life.

When they came back to Melbourne, Peter invited Towers and Moira. Peter had to explain their future to Mary: the nuclear dust was coming down to Australia. In about six months they would die. Some people did not believe in this, but Peter fetched a red box from John Osborne. It contained pills, which would kill Mary, Jennifer and him at once. So they would not have to be afflicted by leukaemia or radiation-sickness.

On their next cruise they had to look for radio signals, which came from Seattle. Besides they had to prove or disprove the Jorgensen-effect, which said, that the radioactive elements would be falling to the ground into the sea and that so the radioactivity would not reach Australia and the Antarctica.

After they had reached Seattle, one of them who was wearing a radiation suit,

investigated the city. He found out that coke bottles had touched the transmitting desks and so they had produced the radio signals; nobody was alive there.

When they came back to Melbourne, the radiation had reached the city. Peter, Mary and Jennifer got sick and after a few days they took the pills, because they just did not want to suffer anymore. Moira said goodbye from Towers, who had to sink the Scorpion. After that she also took the pills.


This book shows the inhumanity of war and its consequences for people, who are not responsible for it. It also shows the heroism of ordinary people who try to make the best of their last months of their lifes. They find the right way to manage it: they behave as nothing would happen. Although they know it's senseless - they buy presents for their families, etc. The only possible way is not to let it become conscious, to pass over it, otherwise they would not be able to bear it.


Peter Holmes: He is a simple man who likes his job and really loves his wife and his   

                           family. He wants to offer them a life as beautiful and comfortable as ever. 

             When he learns of the great danger threatening his country his first

               thought is not to frighten his wife. Until the last minute he stays with her

             and he is determined to die together with his family.

Mary Holmes: She is a woman who dearly loves and admires her husband who always

                          knows what to do in the right moment. She is a person who ignores reality.

                          Mary builds around her and her family a world of beauty and security

                          symbolized by their little garden. She is the opposite of him and gives him

                          all the quiet and pleasure he needs when he returns from a dangerous

  cruise. But when the danger comes nearer, she almost loses her nerves.

  She gets very frightened and only by the help of her husband she can                 

  cope with the hard reality she has always ignored.

Moira Davidson: She is a young and independent woman who loves her own life. She is

                              exactly the opposite to Mary. When she meets Towers her life changes

                              a little. She realizes that she loves him but she also knows that he will

                              never marry her because he alread is married and loongs to see his

                              family again. But Moira can understand that. She only tries to make him

                              his stay in Australia as comfortable as possible.

Captain Towers: He is a captain as the crew likes it: very seer but honest and a good

                              Companion whom you can trust in every situation. He likes Moira but he

                              does not want to start a love affair with her because he thinks it is unfair

                              for his family, since he knows that they are already dead. He knows it,

                             but he cannot realize it; he thinks that they are still alive.

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