Relentless light hitting the white sand without mercy. Pink-tinged Brits like lobsters waiting for the water to boil – but this only with hindsight. How could you know, Mr Smith, that on this North African beach, killing an Arab would come in at No 39?
With nothing to be done for the dead (by definition), what else should we be doing? Walt Whitman, poet, says that the role of the father, standing on the beach next to his child when darkness rolls in, is to point out that ‘the ravening clouds shall not long be victorious’, since they ‘devour the stars only in apparition’.
Another night on the beach, but this time standing alone, Whitman further reports that ‘a vast similitude interlocks us all…all nations, colours, barbarisms, civilisations…all lives and deaths.’ For those like Whitman with the confidence to see the common ground, no one is out of reach.
Nevil Shute’s On The Beach, on the other hand, is a story of human beings becoming untouchable. In this novel of Cold War paranoia, published in 1957, fatal radiation sickness is on its way South from a Northern hemisphere already destroyed by nuclear war. Even in Antarctica and the Antipodes, there is no escape from the death-dealing apparition which we ourselves created.
Who knows how Seifeddine Rezgui arrived at the choices he made? Especially if his motives were anything like the haphazard killing spree he embarked upon. In theaftermath of the massacre on the beach of Sousse, however, we can be deliberate about how to react.
Whether to affirm the ‘similitude’ and keep our Whitmans about us; or fall prey to ‘apparitions’ we ourselves have created, and let it all go down the Shute.