July 15, 2010

On On the Beach

I had trouble reading the first fifty or so pages of this book. Shute's cadences are hard to get a handle on, and he has some awkward attributive tags on his dialogue. I initially had no sympathy for half the characters.

I had trouble reading the last thirty pages of this book. Once I picked up the rhythm that Shute used to tell his story I became immersed in the world he created. The book changed from a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel to something greater. On the Beach transcends generic boundaries and becomes an elegy for the human race in an extinction that has not happened yet. I had trouble reading because of the tears in my eyes.

On the Beach is one of the most emotionally powerful books I have read in a long time. After putting it down, I tried to reflect and determined it had been almost a decade, when I read Lawrence's _Sons and Lovers_ that I was so moved by a book. I have a tender heart, but this book is not emotionally manipulative in a transparent way that cheapens the effect. On the Beach is powerful because it asks and answers fundamental questions about our being in a way that is truthful to what it means t be human.

Shute asks: "What do we do in the face of death?" He shows that we live as much as we can. We love. We make plans for the future. While we face death individually, we move towards it collectively. We are all cosigned to the same fate, but we do not have the certainty of the time that his characters do. On the Beach is an extended metaphor in a way, and as such is both an elegy and a celebration of what it means to be human. Sometimes that is beauty in the face of horror, and both come from the same root.