In our ever-shrinking world, where popular Western culture seems to have infected every nation on the planet, it is hard to find even a small niche of unspoiled land--forget searching for pristine islands or continents. This is the situation in Alex Garland's debut novel, The Beach
. Human progress has reduced Eden to a secret little beach near Thailand. In the tradition of grand adventure novels, Richard, a rootless traveler rambling around Thailand on his way somewhere else, is given a hand-drawn map by a madman who calls himself Daffy Duck. He and two French travelers set out on a journey to find this paradise.
What makes this a truly satisfying novel is the number of levels on which it operates. On the surface it's a fast-paced adventure novel; at another level it explores why we search for these utopias, be they mysterious lost continents or small island communes. Garland weaves a gripping and thought-provoking narrative that suggests we are, in fact, such products of our Western culture that we cannot help but pollute and ultimately destroy the very sanctuary we seek
From Publishers Weekly
Garland's amphetamine-paced first novel plunks some young European expats down on a remote island in the Gulf of Thailand. There, tired of the prepackaged experience available to them in the West, they try to create their own paradise. The narrator is an Englishman named Richard. Born in 1974, he has grown up on popular culture and is a fan of video games and Vietnam War movies. While staying at a creaky Bangkok guest house, he finds a carefully drawn map left by his angry, doped-up neighbor, a suicide who called himself Mr. Daffy Duck. The map points the way to a legendary beach where, it's rumored, a few favored international wanderers have settled. Richard's new friends, Etienne and Francoise, convince him to help them find the island. But Richard, inspired by sudden anxiety about Etienne, gives a copy of the map to two American backpackers-an act that later haunts him as keenly as the ghost of Mr. Duck. Richard and his French companions find the island: half is covered by a marijuana plantation patrolled by well-armed guards; the other half consists of a gorgeous beach and forest where a small band of wandering souls live a communal life dominated by a gently despotic woman named Sal. At times, Garland seems to be trying to say something powerful about the perils of desiring a history-less Eden. But his evocations of Vietnam, Richard's hallucinatory chats with the dead Mr. Duck and various other feints in the direction of thematic gravity don't add up to much. Garland is a good storyteller, though, and Richard's nicotine-fueled narrative of how the denizens of the beach see their comity shatter and break into factions is taut with suspense, even if the bloody conclusion offers few surprises. 150,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo; foreign rights sold in the U.K., Germany, Holland, Italy.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.