A bestseller in its time, On the Beach was written by Nevil Shute, the author of several books we have liked quite a bit over the years. We haven't been the only ones either. Shute's novels have been voted onto the Notting Hill Napoleons booklist many times.
However, this end of the world novel was something quite different. For unlike the books we have enjoyed (Pied Piper, Ruined City, and A Town Called Alice), novels which were interesting, well-written, and containing uplifting themes and characters, Claire and I thought On the Beach a dull and depressing read. Shute wanted the novel to be a warning to the Western world about the proliferation of atomic bombs (it was 1957, who didn't?) but he was so pretentious and unimaginative that he produced less a novel than simply a longwinded tract.
The plot is unrealistic and surprisingly predictable. The characters are generally unlikeable. And the tone of the novel is desperately hopeless. There is, for instance, no hint of transcendence -- except the possibility of reincarnation (a belief that Shute plays with in a couple of his other works). Finally, On the Beach works hard to put a positive spin on suicide and euthanasia. Why wait for a painful, undignified death from radiation poisoning when you can take a pill whenever you decide you've had enough?
Now in the interest of fairness, I should mention that our evaluation of the novel was substantially more negative than the other members of our book club. In fact, most of them actually liked the book. But for Claire and I, slogging through On the Beach was neither enjoyable or productive.