The Beach by Alex Garland
|The Beach by Alex Garland|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Claire Morris|
|Summary: You really should read this book before you see the film as there's distinctly more to it. An absorbing read which you'll go back to time and time again. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: July 2007|
|Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd|
Alex Garland's The Beach is one of those rare books that manage to inspire you within the first couple of pages. Unceremoniously dropped into the bustling life of Bangkok, Thailand, we follow Rich in his quest for adventure, and his subsequent disappointment with the well trodden tourist route he actually finds. Only after a particularly memorable encounter with a rough Scottish character named Daffy Duck is Rich introduced to the legend of 'The Beach'. Perfecty described in the book as a 'Kentucky Fried Rat', (i.e. the legend of the rat bone in with the chicken that always happened to a friend of a friend's cousin, infamous but never actually happened to the person you're talking to), the legend of 'The Beach' is passed on from traveller to traveller, an Eden paradise completely hidden on an island that no-one but a lucky few can get to. Except that Daffy gives Rich a map...
Reading The Beach is an adventure in itself, offering escape in every page. A perfect book to read in winter with the rain battering at your window, you'll disappear off into your own little paradise world. Similarly, it's an equally good read in the summer; with the sun beating down you'll actually feel yourself sitting by the island's lagoon on pure white sands. The Beach offers possibilities, and even though you know you'll probably never go and try them, it's nice to know they're there all the same.
Garland's portrayal of Rich is spot on, he's not tried to make him into one of those people we love to hate, who deserve to go to the island because of their constant selflessness. Rich is your average student, a guy not out to hurt others but ultimately looking out for himself, a point made particularly powerfully with his choices over the Americans trying to invade his paradise. Garland has a wondeful talent for making every character in The Beach human, each has their own quirks, and the long term effects of the Beach on each of them is decidedly disturbing, as he's set it up so well you could see it happening to you just as easily. Ultimately though, it is Rich's relationship with Daffy that is the most poignant, with Rich becoming more and more dependant on him as his mental state begins to crumble the longer he stays on the Beach.
Garland has taken this talent to a distinctly disturbing level however. While he becomes more and more frank about the events taking place on the Beach, he has a nasty way of making you feel ashamed for Rich's choices. Without realising it you've become one with the character, and you're suddenly forced to contemplate if you can really judge Rich, after all, would you really have done anything differently? Watch out for this, the later chapters aren't the best thing to read before bed if you've spent the day feeling a bit bad about yourself already.
While The Beach has proved a massive hit as a major film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, I urge you to read the book before you watch it, or if it's too late for that go and get a copy now. The film hardly does the book justice, it misses out vital relationships and gives you far less of an insight into just why people are the way they are. This is a book that sits well thumbed on my bookshelf, and I recommend that it does the same on yours too.
If you enjoy this book then you might also enjoy The Butt by Will Self
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