on November 17, 2000
Here's the quick synopsis: Richard, a 24 yo Englishman, escapes heartaches and realities at home by backpacking in Thailand (and it's written in the 1st, and told as if he's sitting around, writing a biography). He hooks up with a French couple and they travel to a legendary beach on an island in the Thai Marine Park (where they join a colony). Richard talks to a dead man, lusts after Francoise, and recons the dope farmers who live on the other side of the island -- things quickly go wrong (surprise, surprise). It's like watching war films and listening to the doors ... throw in a bit of discontented 90s youth and there you go.
When I recommend this book, I quite often get the "Oh the Leo Beach movie" stare of disdain. It's very much more than that. This is an intelligent novel that examines the intersection of Vietnam war films on a generation of people who have lived without war, the elite repulsion Westerners have for the "Disneyification" of Third and Second World nations, and the ethnocentric enclaves created within "foreign" territories.
This book functions on two levels: as an enjoyable quick read for someone who is looking for a pop culture punch of action and as a text that deserves a closer observation.
on January 24, 2002
Ready for some excitement and adventure? Pick up The Beach and lose yourself on a tropical island...
Richard, a twentysomething backpacker who spends most of his time searching for bigger and better places to see, finds his way to Thailand for a little R&R. But something is definitely different about this trip and most of it comes in the form of his crazy hostel neighbor, Daffy, who talks incessantly and angrily about a beach. Tucked away in a remote and off-limits part of Thailand, the beach Daffy speaks of is considered a utopia, a perfect world that is unspoiled by tourists, a prize at the end of a tiring quest. Naturally Richard is curious, so he sets out with a French couple, Etienne and Francoise, and a map drawn by Daffy in search of this pristine fantasy land.
The island commune in The Beach would definitely pass for a secret Woodstock hideaway. Richard's journey is like no other; a riveting and spectacular adventure. Reading this book was the next best thing to swimming in their private lagoon, spearing fish and viewing the underwater corals. Island politics and the obsessive desire to keep the island's secrecy plays a heavy role in this novel and is also a prime example of how, even in paradise, one can somehow manage to destroy it.
Dark and sinister, as well as sarcastically funny, The Beach is a fast and furious novel that transports readers to another place in the blink of an eye. Alex Garland's writing is razor-sharp and indicative of his amazing storytelling talent. The movie cannot begin to touch the depth and fascination of this unforgettable novel.
on March 26, 2000
Many other reviews here have been comparing "Beach" to other books. Yes, there are shades of "On the Road," "Lord of the Flies," Michener's "Drifters," and maybe even a little "Sand Pebbles" thrown in. That's fine - I like new stories to remind me of other great tales. Good writing examples complement each other; it's not one book vs. another. And this is good writing. Garland keeps the basic story simple; it's easy to follow and relatively believable. One of the best things done is that Garland creates a sort of tension throughout the book. The reader is not able to relax and simply glide along. You know something's going to happen but not what or when (you do know, of course, that Richard will make it due to the first person narration). When things go wrong, they do so in a wild but logical manner. Nothing goes too far over the top with characters commiting improbable acts (read "A Simple Plan" for the exact opposite, though it's still a fine story). The dream sequences enhance the story, rather than annoy the reader as often happens. This is a modern tale of adventure that ranks right up there with other generation-defining work. I haven't seen the movie nor do I plan to, this is good enough.
on February 12, 2000
I read this book 2 1/2 years ago, before there was any mention of a movie. when I started reading this, I couldn't believe how accurate his depictions of the backpacker culture were. I felt , whilst reading this I could have written it myself as I had travelled the exact route Richard had 3 years earlier.His experiences were identicalto mine for the first half of the book. I loved his characterizations.I'm sure we all know some of those characters.I felt this book was written with such honesty,that I'm sure some of us have thought the thoughts of Richard before. An excellent read. I have been telling anyone who will listen to read this book for years.Anyone of the Generation X will empathise with this character.I saw the movie this week and I was quite pleased with how it turned out,although the nationality switch of Richard was disappointing and I feel they played safe with the portrayal of Richard,in that as soon as he started showing his madness they pulled the character back. The performances were commendable & I think Leonardo did a good job although he wouldn't have been my first choice, Robert Carlyle was superb as usual. The saddest part was that they butchered the ending, Hollywood couldn't resist the Happily Ever After!
on June 24, 2005
I first saw the movie on DVD a couple of weeks ago. I found the movie extraordinary. It was so beautiful, mesmerizing, and intense. The plot, the casting, the acting, the scenery, the photography it all worked together seamlessly. After reading everyone's reviews I just had to read the book. You know the cliché: "If you liked the movie, you will love the book, it's so much better." Well, not necessarily in this specific case they are both excellent. If anything, relative to their own medium the movie is a better movie than the book is for a book. This does not mean the book is bad. It is still outstanding.
The book was great fun to read, and is an incredible page turner. Actually, never reading fiction I am typically an incredibly slow reader (typically 35 pages an hour). But, in this case I found myself cruising effortlessly at speeds close to or over 60 pages an hour. And, I read the whole book (400 pages) in less than 3 full days, and that was during the working week. That's definitely a personal best for me in terms of speed and pretty close to a best in terms of enjoyment too.
The book has a fairly universal appeal. I frankly don't have that much interest or respect in the type of dope addicted, hedonistic, vapid and meaningless culture described in the book. Yet, somehow I could relate very much to the characters. The plot was a complex mix of Robinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies, Apocalypse Now, and the Drifters (by James Michener). It was the group dynamics, the power plays, the politics, and the hardship that made this story so interesting. The protagonists faced wrenching moral dilemma days after days. They are put in situations where they are no clear cut good or bad answers. Sometimes given the circumstances, the apparently cruel thing is the right thing to do. Most of the characters had few redeeming qualities by themselves, but as a society they became fascinating. They became a representative microcosm of the entire of humankind.
The writing is so hip, that at first it is almost irritating. How many times can you read the four letter word in the same paragraph. For a while, you almost question whether people really do speak like that. But, the genius in the writing was that it was made to be adapted into a screenplay. Voluntarily or not, Alex Garland created a magical cash machine when he wrote this first novel. Twentieth Century Fox must have gone bezerk when they came across his story. After this book, Garland did not rest on his laurels as he soon wrote "28 Days Later" which was turned into one of the best Armageddon horror movies I have seen in the past few years.
As you can tell, I can unequivocally recommend the book and the movie as well. Reading this book tempts me to read again both Robinson Crusoe and The Drifters.
on March 9, 2000
It's telling that Alex Garland's debut novel has become a cult favorite among the same vacuous subpopulation of travelers that he spends much of this book lambasting. There's something impoverished about The Beach: reading it fails to provide the kind of "authentic experience" for which Garland's 20something characters are questing. Though I launched into this book looking for a subtext about rootlessness and the search for purpose among the gypsy backpackers that symbolize ALL of us GenXers, that idea went undeveloped. No idea, no theory, undergirds this book to give it structure or purpose. Undeveloped too are Garlands characters; they descend into madness and their lives hang in the balance, ho hum. You can't gasp when you don't give a damn. Finally, The Beach fails to portray a paradise that is very compelling: the commune that is the focus of this book is more of a tropical work camp, no one has interesting conversations or does much save for get stoned and play Tetris, and most of the members don't seem to get along. Though I'm two years younger than Garland, I felt that this book was somehow aimed at a teenage audience, or for some generation coarser and more emotionally stillborn and lobotomized than my own. Life's a beach, indeed....
on October 4, 1999
The things that I hated about this book in the beginning pages are the exact things that make this book brilliant. For example, I disliked many of the charecters right away. I was never convinced of the beauty of the beach or the surrounding islands. I felt a general sense of hoplessness while reading the story. I found myself wondering many times whether the author wanted me to admire these people who travel all over the world without a care or feel sorry for them because their lack a real home and family. I realized that this was what the author wanted you to feel. I liked how the author showed me the fine line between paradise on earth and hell, and how easy it is to slip from one to the other with no real rules or responsibilities. The ending was perfect. When I was not reading this book, I was constantly thinking about its charecters and the message behind it. The book left me feeling awful, but a book that can actually trigger this kind of emotion is worth reading. It is supposed to make you feel uneasy. Highly recommended.
on May 25, 2016
The Beach focuses on the main character of Richard, who finds a map to a hidden beach paradise while traveling in Thailand. After becoming friends with two other travelers, they set out on an adventure to find this beach. After discovering the seemingly "Edenic paradise" on a island in a Thai National Park, Richard soon finds that it's not as much as a paradise as he first thought. He comes to learn that sometimes civilized behavior tends to break down in a situation such as this, cut off from modern society, that the utopia that the founders tried to create here is harder to maintain then he originally believed.
Now first I have to say that besides being a very avid reader, I also love movies. The Beach is one of my favorite movies and for some reason I was unaware that it was of course based on a book. I have seen the movie probably 20 times, so I was afraid that might ruin the book for me. However, I was very wrong. First, like a lot of book to movie adaptations, the movie is much different from the book, the plot line is not the same, huge scenes are left out or changed and a great deal of detail is missing in the movie. Second, I have to say that although I was impressed by Garland's writing, I imagine that not everyone would enjoy this book. Garland has a unique writing style and it is also very descriptive. Even if you have never seen the movie, the way he paints the picture of the beach and lagoon is amazing. I feel like I can see the whole layout of the island. There are part of this book that are quite violent and Garland's writing made them stand out to me that much more.
Richard is the only character that I feel like I really got to know, although we do learn a lot about the other characters involved, there are so many people interacting with Richard on a daily basis. It would have been difficult for the author to describe each one of them in as much detail as Richard. The book is told from Richard's point of view and starts off when he arrives in Thailand before ever meeting Daffy or acquiring the map to the beach. The "feel" of the writing, is that Richard is writing this story a year or two after is happened, but then some chapters sounds more present tense. I don't really know how to explain it, but it worked really well. The book is also broken down into both sections and then chapters within those sections.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book; it's a lot different then what I have been reading lately. If you have seen the movie, the book is not only a lot different, but I also enjoyed it a lot more. The things the movie left out, make the book. The way it ends was absolutely perfect after the events leading up to the "climax". It is most certainly a book I would recommend to anyone looking for something a bit different, happy reading!
on November 12, 2015
I imagine the elevator speech for this book being, “’Lord of the Flies’ done Paul Theroux style.” While that may or may not sound appealing, this is one of the most gripping novels I’ve read recently.
“The Beach” will have its greatest appeal with travelers because understanding the mindset of a traveler versus that of a tourist (vagabonds versus regular folk, if you prefer) is essential to being able to feel the realism in the behavior of the book’s characters. (If you don’t know the difference between a traveler and a tourist, it’s safe to say that you are a regular person who travels as a tourist.) Like “Moby Dick”, this is a book about all consuming obsession, but the obsession is in finding and protecting the traveler’s paradise. (Such a paradise is partially defined by a complete lack of tourists.) Unlike “Moby Dick”, “The Beach” isn’t rambling, and it maintains tension throughout.
The story beings on Khao San Road in Bangkok, a familiar haunt for backpackers and other low budget world travelers. The protagonist, Richard, has just gotten in to Bangkok and checks into a hostel. Rooming next to Richard is a Scottish man named “Daffy” who seems to be a complete lunatic and who keeps talking aloud to himself about a “beach.” Owing to the accent, Richard first thinks Daffy is talking about a “bitch,” but soon realizes the man’s obsession is with a patch of sand. Richard has a brief and unusual interaction with Daffy, who throws a lit joint onto Richard’s bed. In the morning, Richard finds a meticulously hand drawn map on his door with “the Beach” prominently labeled. When he goes to see why the crazy stranger left it for him; he knocks on Daffy’s ajar door to find the man has committed suicide.
The beach is on one of the small islands that are kept off-limits as part of the Thai National Parks system. Richard teams up with a French couple who was also staying next to him. While Richard had heard their amorous sounds through the thin walls on the night he met Daffy, he didn’t meet the couple until they were all called in to talk to the police about Daffy’s suicide. For some reason Richard is unwilling to tell the police about the map, but he does tell the Frenchman. The map leads them to the island. It isn’t easy to get to. Once on the island, they discover they must get through a grove of marijuana guarded by heavily armed locals to get to the fabled beach.
It turns out a small community of travelers has already set up on the idyllic beach. As with any group, some people get along well and others rub each other the wrong way. We get the best insight into those individuals who become the friends and enemies of Richard, and many of the others are the novel equivalent of movie extras. At first, all is well on the island. Richard and the French couple have to do work a few hours a day on the fishing detail, but otherwise they are living in their Eden. However, as things begin to go wrong—and they do go frightfully wrong—Richard and others begin to be confronted by the question of what they are willing to do to protect the Beach, and how will their personal moralities be twisted in the process.
Garland uses a couple of interesting techniques in the book. First, Richard is plagued by dreams featuring Daffy, and later--as the burden of secrets to which he is party piles up—he begins to have hallucinations of Daffy during the day. In both cases, it seems that the dreams and hallucinations are an attempt to help him work out the mysteries of the Beach. No one on the island will tell him about Daffy, and he is desperate to know what drove the man mad—or whether he was always like that. There’s one character, Jed, who goes off every day and no one seems to know where he goes or what he does. Eventually, Richard comes to be in on some of these secrets (e.g. becoming Jed’s partner), and the burden of knowledge doesn’t improve his state of mind. In the end, Richard seems to realize that he is the new Daffy, and what drove Daffy into madness will surely do the same for him if he doesn’t get off the island.
Second, Garland uses what—for lack of a better term—might be called foreshadowing. However, it’s not so much a matter of subtle hints as a bold statements such as [paraphrasing], “It’s too bad _________ would die, especially in the way he did.” This should have seemed ham-handed, but there’s always enough mystery about what will come next that the these tips were like lighter fluid to intensify one’s reading so one could find out what would happen next and how.
I whole-heartedly recommend this novel, and think it’s one of the best pieces of travel-oriented writing that I’ve read. It’s a page-turn from beginning to end.
on January 23, 2000
The beach makes one wonder if a place like author Alex Garland describes actually exists.It also makes a person qeustion how they would react in the circumstances Richard,the main character,was faced with.It certainly defines the traveler versus tourist mentality.It is a book for someone looking for a quick read to make them think alot,and possibly have some odd dreams.(as I did)