‘The Beach’ – Alex Garland
The classic story of paradise found – and lost.
Richard lands in East Asia in search of an earthly utopia. In Thailand, he is given a map promising an unknown island, a secluded beach – and a new way of life. What Richard finds when he gets there is breathtaking: more extraordinary, more frightening than his wildest dreams.
But how long can paradise survive here on Earth? And what lengths will Richard go to in order to save it?
You can be forgiven for being distracted by images of a young Leonardo diCaprio, fresh faced from ‘Titanic’, wandering around a glorious deserted beach in nothing but his shorts. Or have the AllSaints song (remember them?) playing in a loop in your head. But putting all this aside, ‘The Beach ‘ has more of a darker side than either of the distractions allow.
I, like so many others in this world, watched the film and then decided to read the book. Obviously the film follows the main gist of the story, but there is a lot more depth to this novel than people may originally realise.
The story is told through the eyes of Richard, a traveller who gets a copy of a map to ‘Paradise’ whilst bored and alone in a hotel in main Thailand. Right from the beginning of the book we are exposed to two parts of Richard’s character: the analytical observer and the young man that he is who loves to play video games. Over the course of the novel the two become intertwined and the reader sees Richard escape into an alternate reality: one he feels is more exciting and that is more like the video games that he enjoys playing. With this, I think Garland is trying to emphasise the point of how remote and detached the islanders are from the ‘real world’, yet it is this that ultimately seems to drive them apart as a community; the characters feel like they are in Paradise but at the same time feel a longing for something more.
I wouldn’t normally comment on the structure of the book but on writing this think that the short chapters (sometimes just a couple of pages long) are not only convenient in making this an ideal book to dip in and out of, are also meant to reflect Richard’s immaturity to some of his experiences. This escapism grows throughout the novel as he spends more time on the island, and I was expecting Garland to do something with this. However, the closing of the book does not elaborate on this state further and to some extent I found this disappointing, leaving me wanting more. So I guess this is Garland’s point: leave you wanting more after reading about a paradise, just like the characters on the island.
I would definitely give this book a read. It is interesting to see how the characters change to their new surroundings but I must admit there are points where things get a little bit dull. If you have already seen the film, it will give you a fair idea of what this is about, but definitely expect more to Leo/Richard than you originally perceived.