The End of the South


Image by spike55151 via Flickr

I should have taken my DH’s advice, and not read this while or just after our baby was sick (he’d not brought it to the hospital when I needed reading matter, but I found it when we got home). Parts of this are depressing generally, especially when the family with a baby finally have a real discussion about what’s going on.

19. On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Apparently, like several of Shute’s other novels, this quickly became a now classic film. I’ve never seen that, however, and came to the book all unknowing. For an end-of-the-world novel, this is self-aware in its difference from the more American style – here the Northern hemisphere has simply been wiped out through a series of terrorist actions by rogue states, and misunderstanding reactions by large ones, and the Southern hemisphere is suffering through really no fault of its own.

Scientifically, I don’t see that the premise here makes any sense at all – if the air of the North has been affected enough to wipe out all human and then animal life by a series of nuclear bombs in different places, why would the radiation be spreading evenly north to south? And if the air is affected, why aren’t the oceans? Still, suspending disbelief in this regard, the human psychology makes some sense, although I don’t believe there’d be as much uniformity about it as is presented here.

Basically, he has his characters, mostly Australians based in and around Melbourne, as well as a couple of US Naval crews who were in Southern waters during the short war and who  have placed themselves under Australian command, as well as all those elsewhere in Australia, South America and anywhere else that still has human population, acting fairly calmly, and happily staying in their current bases, unless there’s a job to be done elsewhere. Half of them pretend everything will continue, and plan for the future, planting gardens that they won’t be around to benefit from, while the other half party, drinking and taking any risk that takes their fancy, because it will make at most a few weeks of difference. While it’s discussed as an option, no-one comes south to them, or goes south from Melbourne, to try to survive a few days, weeks or months longer. I just don’t believe people wouldn’t try to hang on. It seems highly unlikely and defeatist to me.

Again accepting an unlikely premise, however, the novel does work. People care deeply, much as they often try to hide it, and they try to make the best of a bad lot as they go, retaining joy and dignity, as it strikes them, right to the end. I’m not convinced this is one I’ll be rereading regularly, as it can’t help but be somewhat depressing, given the storyline, but I’m not sorry to have read it at all – just thinking I should have left it for another time!


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3 Responses to “The End of the South”

  1. kloppenmum Says:

    Just a thought, Kaet. Have you read any of Vanda Symon’s books? She’s a very kiwi crime writer and she had her latest book, Bound, as number one on our best sales list a few weeks ago.

  2. kloppenmum Says:

    I’ve put a link on my blogroll. I just love the kiwi-sims that she includes, and I thought they might be interesting for readers overseas. (And she’s a mate: better come clean about that!)

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