What do you get if you mix The Lord of the Flies, Castaway and a lot of dope? The Beach, by Alex Garland.
I read this book in 2007 and remember that I felt underwhelmed, but not why this was so. After all, the book is now a cult classic and I like the author’s subsequent film work. So I borrowed it from the library for a re-read.
The narrator of the story is Richard, a traveller and adventure seeker who’s always looking for the next authentic location away from the tourists and the phoneys. He’s looking back on the events. In Thailand, a mentally unstable man, Daffy, tells him about a beach. Daffy then commits suicide. Richard decides to find this mysterious beach, along with a French couple from the same guesthouse. The majority of the story is set on the beach, examining the tension between the people of this select community. They live an isolated existence which is supposed to be idyllic but then everything starts to go wrong.
Mostly, the book is a gripping read, with an interesting (not particularly likeable) narrator. That Richard is followed around by the ghost of Daffy, who is really a reflection of himself and his obsession with the Vietnam War and video games, adds an edgy dimension. I’m not keen on Robinson Crusoe survivor-type narratives, however, so the details about how the people of the beach caught their fish, worked their vegetable plots, etc, was rather dull. This was, I suspect, what I didn’t like the first time I read the book.
Ironically for a novel about the quest to find unspoilt corners of paradise, the film adaptation in 2000 (which I haven’t seen) garnered controversy for altering the location in which it was filmed and of course there were increased numbers of visitors as a result, no doubt turning it into a place Richard would have avoided.
First published in 1996.