“There’s this saying: in an all-blue world, colour doesn’t exist… If something seems strange, you question it; but if the outside world is too distant to use as a comparison then nothing seems strange.”
- The Beach, Alex Garland
Yay! Here’s another book off of my 2012 Book List, Alex Garland’s The Beach. This is my second Garland read, the first being The Coma, a review of which you can read here. I enjoyed the latter so much that I resolved to read another of Garland’s works to see if it will be able to manage my expectations of a good literary experience.
And that I got, I believe. The thing with Garland’s books is that they are each so skillfully crafted to disturb the reader. So if you are new to the Garland business, don’t expect rainbows and unicorns; instead expect themes like real/ unreal or paradise/ reality. He likes to explore the fine line between the two, and in my opinion, he does it well every time.
The Beach is primarily set at a rundown hostel on Khao San Road in Bangkok. There, Richard, an English backpacker, encounters a peculiar old fellow who goes by the name Daffy Duck. Later on, Mr Duck commits suicide for reasons unknown. The old man leaves a map to a secret beach, thereby piquing the younger man’s interest.
Richard then tracks down the island together with a French couple, Etienne and Francoise. The book heavily details their journey to paradise, where the reader is also able to meet interesting personalities that play a pivotal role in the plot. The three friends eventually make it to the beach (but not without difficulty), which they see has been transformed into a civilized realm on its own.
A chunk of the book describes island life: how the inhabitants of the secret beach have completely cut off ties with “the real world”, how they are segregated into several groups to sustain their livelihood, how Richard and his friends ultimately fit in.
Towards the end, the reader is exposed to the ugliness of man, and how it ultimately came to be for the sake of preserving the secrecy of the island. The last few pages were gruesome and sick. Many times I thought, “Why the hell would one do that?” Garland’s narrative really gets under your skin.
Anyway, I did like this book as a whole, but to be honest, it took a while for me to think that. I mean, getting through it was kind of a struggle, seeing that many times I thought the plot was too stretched out (it got boring). It seemed to mimic the lull of beach life; if this was the point, then I guess Garland was able to successfully communicate that to me.
It was towards the end when I started to sit up and read religiously. I wanted to find out if Richard and friends were going to escape all right! (And yes, they were able to.) The book ends with an update of life after the beach, which I thought was… rushed (oddly enough). It was just a very quick recount of how Richard and friends had been getting on with their respective lives. I wished their stories were explored a bit more.
The Beach. The plot just takes a while to warm up, but once it heats up completely, it will take the reader on full throttle.
A side note: I haven’t actually seen the film version of this (starring post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio–so yes, he was still hot in the film), but a quick search of the trailer unveiled differences from the book. For one thing, Leo’s character, Richard, is English in the book, not American as was portrayed in the film. Richard does not get physical with anyone in the book. Richard’s best friend on the island, Jed, was cut off from the film, which was most bizarre, since their conversations were most entertaining for me. Oh and the film ends differently too, says Wikipedia. My initial thought upon reading about these differences: meh. I don’t think I will be bothering with the film.
Book cover was grabbed from the Internet.