I just finished a book that belongs to a class of entertainment that I call “fetal position” stories. As in, it’ll leave you curled up and longing for the safety of the womb at its conclusion. Leaving Las Vegas and The Constant Gardener (movie) are good examples, and the first book that I’ve elevated into that pleasant little club, On the Beach, by Nevil Shute.
This story felt like crushing a flower at the peak of its beauty, not through spite or pain, but because it is inevitable that as it flowers and blooms, then it must fade and fall, either to you or to time. From the first quarter of this book, you know how it must end, and you know that it will hurt, but like watching that beauty as your hand closes around it, the last sliver of light is still as beautiful and luminous and engaging as the whole, so you cheat only yourself to look away.
I don’t know why the author closed his hand tight around his characters except that to tell this story he must’ve known that it had to end this way. Not with a bang but a whimper.
T.S. Eliot’s famous poem The Hollow Men is quoted on the cover page, and it’s safe to say it was the more poignant for reading after finishing the story. Eyes were not dry and I struggled to hold it together for the last thirty minutes of reading. Being reduced to an embarrassingly weepy mess by a book is a new experience for me, but the gentle ferocity of this story sanded down my emotions with fine grit paper till suddenly it was pulling me apart, lovingly. Gently. Expertly. To devastating effect.
This story is wonderfully sad.