A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
This novel, which could have worked as a cautionary tale in its publication year, 1957, can still bring shivers to one’s spine. In this narrative, the worst has already happened, a vague war begun, on accident, between Russia and China, in which nuclear warfare destroys most of the northern hemisphere. Only the Australians and other South Pacific cultures survive . . . for a while. As we know, such high amounts of radiation kill immediately and keep on killing over weeks and months as its fine particles continue to float to earth. The main characters realize intellectually what will happen but continue to live as if death won’t come, racing in a local grand prix, planting a garden one won’t benefit from, collecting presents for one’s children when one “returns” to his family in America. Shute is deft in creating what looks like denial and yet is a way for characters to cope, until the very end. At that time, little red pills of barbiturates have been distributed like penny candy, and we see each one take his or her dosage and end their lives peacefully. We are made to consider, however, what will happen to the earth itself. After a number of years, so Shute believes, the radiation will clear, the earth will be ready for inhabitation again. It shall repopulate itself with some kind of creatures. The novel has one final lesson for those living today. Nuclear war is the ultimate global warming, the ultimate in climate change. Forever. The thought should still give us pause.
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