The Beach by Alex Garland

[Originally posted on 25.11.2008 on my old site]


I’m not gonna hide this. This is my absolute favourite book.
I fit nicely into the outline of the classic Alex Garland fan. Caught by the tail end of generation X, raised on TV and saturated with pop culture, I even think of myself as a “lifestyle traveller,” just like Richard, the protagonist of The Beach.

This book was practically made for me.

The Beach follows the story of Richard, a backbacker wandering around thailand, always trying to find greater levels of adventure. One night whilst staying in a run down backpackers motel he meets a half mad traveller named Daffy Duck who promptly attaches a map with directions to a mythical island paradise to Richards door before slitting his wrists and dying. Richard heads off to the island along with Francoise and Etienne a french couple he meets. On the way to beach Richard meets a pair of american tourists and gives them a copy of the map. Upon reaching the island Richard, Etienne and Francoise discover a thriving community of hippies and travellers, living in an almost utopian society around a beach on the island. However as you might expects throughout the novel utopia turns increasingly sour. The island is shared with a drug cartel who uncomfortably tolerate the beach dwellers. The sick are forced to stay on the island for fear of revealing the location of the beach if they were to leave. Paranoia and insanity begins to set in as the vast amounts of free cannabis makes Richard start to hallucinate visions of Daffy Duck. And towards the end a sense of such forboding begins to draw in making the beach into a very scary place indeed.

Its a bit hard to classify the beach, it could be travel writing, a thriller, horror, action? but strangely it works. Its complicated, theres masses of small twists and turns in the plot, each devoloping new themes, suggesting new ideas, and building up a larger picture of the dark problems that lurk behind utopia.

The influences on the Beach are probably one of the best ways to describe it, theres a clear apocalypse now/ heart of darkness influence to it, with Richard becoming seemingly obsessed with viatnam glamour and more and more consumed by the jungle. The other visible influences would be novels like On The Beach and Brave New World and like these books Garland takes the opportunity to examine the society. Questioning just how the beach’s self appointed, supposedly benevolent dictatorship lead by Sal and Bugs would really work.

The Beach is complicated, dark, intelligent, but most of all just plain thrilling, you can choose to engage with it on a higher level, rading into its themes on human nature, or you can just take the storya t face value and enjoy anarrative which is fresh, fast paced and unpredictable.

I havent met anyone who i dont think would enjoy The Beach, its a modern classic.

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