Whaaaaat? The Beach is the adult Lord of the Flies, and it is no less engrossing (or weird). I haven’t seen the movie based on the book despite Leonardo DiCaprio’s beautiful face, so I got to experience the crazy with an unspoiled mind.
Garland’s book starts off innocently enough, tapping into the traveler’s desire to escape tourism and live a simple life. When Richard and his new friends find the titular beach, they join a group that fishes, smokes weed, and swims in a protected lagoon that is almost impossible to reach. Idyllic, right?
It is until EVERYTHING GOES CRAZY. Garland does such a good job of hinting at the coming darkness in ways that made me desperate to know what was going to happen next. We’re in Richard’s head, so we understand his madness. In a way, the focus on his increasingly uncomfortable actions blinds the reader to the craziness all around him. It is almost too late before I realized the rest of the beach dwellers were just as messed up as Richard (Jed possibly excepted).
Thematically, there are all sorts of warnings against the dream of escaping your past or the evil of civilization. It might as well be a textbook on the inherent sinfulness of man. Although these men and women have found paradise, the moment their isolation is threatened, all hell breaks loose. This is fascinating and terrifying, and so entertaining to read.
The Khao San Road, Bangkok–first stop for the hordes of rootless young Westerners traveling in Southeast Asia. On Richard’s first night there, in a low-budget guest house, a fellow traveler slashes his wrists, bequeathing to Richard a meticulously drawn map to “the Beach.”
The Beach, as Richard has come to learn, is a subject of legend among young travelers in Asia: a lagoon hidden from the sea, with white sand and coral gardens, freshwater falls surrounded by jungle, plants untouched for a thousand years. There, it is rumored, a carefully selected international few have settled in a communal Eden.
Haunted by the figure of Mr. Duck–the name by which the Thai police have identified the dead man–and by his own obsession with Vietnam movies, Richard sets off with a young French couple to an island hidden away in an archipelago forbidden to tourists. They discover the Beach, and it is as beautiful and idyllic as it is reputed to be. Yet over time it becomes clear that Beach culture, as Richard calls it, has troubling, even deadly, undercurrents.
Spellbinding and hallucinogenic, The Beach is a look at a generation in their twenties, who, burdened with the legacy of the preceding generation and saturated by popular culture, long for an unruined landscape, but find it difficult to experience the world firsthand.
Release Date: 1996
Want another opinion? Check out reviews by Man vs. World or The Tao of Loafing.