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The Beach Paperback – February 1, 1998
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“What makes The Beach a truly awesome piece of work is Garland’s understated, assured depiction of the perils of pop." --The Village Voice
“The Beach will astonish readers... Not since reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History has this reader been so impressed and taken with a first novel.” --USA Today
“The Beach is an awesome first novel that works as an adventure story, an allegory and an explanation for why every human since Adam and Eve has an irresistible impulse to create a perfect world and destroy it. A wonderful adventure and allegory that may be the best novel written by anyone currently younger than 30.” --Sunday Oregonian
“Alex Garland... has a clear, engaging storytelling style and a vivid imagination. Deftly, he uses real-life travel details--smells, optical effects, quirks of language, social rituals--to keep the reader’s disbelief at bay.” --The New York Times Book Review
“Remarkable.... astonishingly assured.... The Beach is distinguished by Garland’s bracingly transparent prose and tells a classic story of generational envy and displacement. A luminous voyage into the dark side of humanity’s increasingly tenuous dreams of paradise.” --Salon
“Generation X meets Lord of the Flies in this ripping good adventure yarn...Garland shows a precociously sure hand in this taut, exotic thriller. For a young author, he knows too well the peril of finding paradise on earth...a skillful first novel about the demise of an earthly paradise.” --People
“[G]ripping, intelligent and written with a discipline many young writers only grow into." --New York Newsday
“The Beach makes for a relevant and fascinating read....an excellent critique of the backpacker phenomenon--its nouveau colonialism and its tragically misdirected idealism.” --Time Out
“Garland’s provocative style--somewhere between Joseph Conrad, Bret Easton Ellis, and Stephen King--creates a modern-day Eden where Nintendo Game-boy, "Apocalypse Now," and a drug-trafficking Thai militia blend seamlessly into the landscape.” --Vogue
About the Author
- Publisher : Riverhead Books; First Printing edition (February 1, 1998)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 448 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1573226521
- ISBN-13 : 978-1573226523
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #25,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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There are two things that jump out at me with the novel (beyond specific events and plot points); 1. The examination of Traveler vs Tourist, and 2. They dynamics of leadership and social order. The first really sets up the story by breaking down any preconceived ideologies these characters may have. The traveler is fiercely independent, if not mildly pretentious. They carry no sense of nationalism or social bonds. But they are also in denial. About their dependency on many things they ridicule and fact they are still just tourists.
Which leads to the second theme...how do a group of "travelers" redefine a social hierarchy and leadership model in an isolated environment. Who fishes? Who farms? Who builds shelter? Who LEADS? More importantly what happens when those structures start to break down? Hunger, sickness, tribal warfare.....chaos is lurking...even in Paradise.
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!
Top reviews from other countries
I, personally, was particularly obsessed with it because I was entranced by the idea of just taking off on a backpacking adventure. At this point, I was in the midst of the hard graft of my two year training contract that aspiring lawyers needed to complete to qualify as a solicitor. This involved working long hours and studying for exams at the same time, so daydreaming about laying back on a perfect tropical beach, living some self-sufficient fantasy, was the perfect antidote to this grind for the few minutes I managed to allow myself each day to engage in such escapist nonsense. This was never going to happen for me and, by the end of this book, I was fairly glad of that.
Hollywood made this into a not-entirely-terrible film starring the entirely un-terrible Leonardo DiCaprio but, whilst the film was okay in and of itself, it was fairly disappointing interpretation for the novel’s diehard fans. If all you know of this book comes from watching the film, you need to approach the novel version with this parental advisory ringing in your ears – the book is much, much darker. This being said, don’t let it put you off because the book is also much, much better.
I thought Leo did a reasonable job of carrying over some of the darkness that dwells within Richard’s soul into the film, but the cartoonish nature of the scenes in the jungle distract from this a bit. Unfortunately, its inevitable that a book which relies so heavily on the internal thought processes of the main character to fully round out the plot is going to struggle somewhat in translation, so we can’t entirely condemn Danny Boyle, I think he did the best he could given those limitations. But the book will give you an entirely different perspective on Richard’s nature, and the behaviour of the other travellers in the camp. And the romance with Francoise? Forget it- fabricated by the scriptwriters to please the vagaries of Hollywood moguls. Plus they changed the ending, and not for the better but, once you read the book, you’ll probably understand why this was necessary.
So, coming back to this book 24 years after my first reading of it (I have read it a couple of times inbetween), how has it faired, given that both I and the world have changed beyond recognition in the interim? Did it still move me in the same way as it did in my youth?
No, of course not. Whenever we read books from our youth later in life, we inevitably react to them differently, influenced by the life experiences we have had inbetween. However, it did still move me. I just drew different things from it this time around. And, despite the fact I have read this book half a dozen times, and watched the movie four or five times too, the book still retains the power to shock and thrill me, even though I know everything that is going to happen. This is the power of great writing. It can survive the decades, survive the moving on of the world, of technology, of our own characters, and still find ways to excite and challenge us, new ways that hadn’t occurred to us previously and which keep the reading experience fresh and interesting, as well as being comforting and familiar at the same time.
I would be very interested to see what a reader in their twenties now, who grew up in a world that has moved on from the one Alex Garland was writing about back in 1996, makes of this book and if it resonates in any way with them. Someone who does not have the same emotional attachment and desire to tap in to the vestige of their youth that is tied up in this book for me. Any volunteers? The fact that this book remains in print, and was given an updated cover and new release for its twentieth anniversary, would indicate that new readers are still finding that this novel speaks to them in some way.
There has been, as often is, a few changes the movie made in comparison to that of the book. I can see why, as sometimes it's just not as easy to put words to screen and create the same feeling as that imagery in one's own imagination. Though I say I can understand the changes, from a movie point of view, I am glad I got to see this version and have to say I prefer it.
I would recommend this book to any lover of books, regardless of preferred genre!
We meet Richard. An English backpacker who likes to travel the world, likes the company of other backpackers, and generally does his best to avoid any contact with local culture. He dreams of finding paradise but his quest faces the inherent contradiction that paradise must have enough backpacker clones to provide a social life but must simultaneously be undiscovered. But, wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, Richard runs into a man who just happens to know where paradise can be found and is willing to draw a map…
The story is narrated by Richard and it is clear from the outset that he is telling it according to his own personal morality and values – which, in true backpacker style, are highly selfish, pretty ignorant yet preaching laid back fraternity.
I think this is where I got the idea I wouldn’t like The Beach. It’s principally because backpackers love it and almost revere it. And I find backpackers very hard to love. But in a wonderful twist, I think Alex Garland also doesn’t like backpackers and has written The Beach to show just how contemptible they can be, confident that backpackers will be so narcissistic that they will be flattered to see themselves depicted with such laser sharp accuracy.
Anyway, Richard ends up in this Beach paradise, invisible to all but his fellow backpackers, living the perfect life. The perfect life seems to consist of subsistence fishing and farming, swimming, smoking dope and generally getting on one another’s nerves. Despite all the protestations of being laid back and free, they don’t seem to like each other very much, trust is at a premium, and there are more petty rules than you could wave a conch shell at. It’s all a bit Lord of the Flies.
Just in case readers start to think that if subsistence farming and fishing were so great, South East Asians would have nothing to worry about, we follow our intrepid explorers on trips back to civilisation to buy bulk-stocks of rice, batteries and other useful creature comforts – presumably using money sent from home. Because, let’s face it, sending rice money every now and then is a small price for parents to pay to be rid of their bludging offspring.
Richard tells us right from the outset that things are not going to end well. This prolepsis keeps the reader interested because, in truth, things only really go badly wrong right at the end. It also tells us that Richard is likely to come through it all OK (although his frequent conversations with the ghost of Daffy Duck keep us hoping it might not be so) and that what is being told is filtered through the lens of hindsight – hence potentially subject to revisionism. The ending is quite satisfying although, like all good novels, Alex Garland keeps the reader wishing for more.
Overall, the novel is pacey and despite the page count, is a pretty fast read. The sense of place is uncannily accurate and the people feel horrifyingly real. This is the 100% authentic Khao San Road experience with Thais and Thai culture kept at a safe remove, cropping up only in horror stories of bad sanitation, unpalatable food or dishonest taxi drivers. It’s a bleak picture of the vacuousness of youth, the obsession with films, television and video games, and the unwillingness to engage with life on anything but the most facile level.
If you like car crashes, you’ll love The Beach.
It reminded me of youthfulness and hope and dope and being too high.
It was a strange story of TRAVELING I remember Dirty Dave speaking the verses of Mr. Tamberine Man in our hut in the Eilat desert and converting me into a Bob Dylan fan. That too eventually faded. Now all there is is The Beach. I would not recommend it to people I thought too gentle to grasp it.
The answer is a resounding yes! Richard, our main character, while at times infuriating, is actually a bit of a softie and you (well I) can’t help but want to be his friend, even when he does some questionable things. By then you can see why he does them, but also that the cracks are starting to appear in the veneer of paradise.
I also feel the premis of the book still holds true as much today as it did then. Travellers today, as back then all want to do something different...but they all do the same. I’ve travelled but as holidays rather than long stints, and the number of times I’ve been chatting with travellers, who start comparing notes on all the places they have been, the hostels, the sites, the restaurants etc. They haven’t travelled together but they all follow the same route. Very few people who travel actually have that elusive, private experience but I fully understand the desire to try and find that place no one knows about.
Would I recommend this book, undoubtedly! It’s an easy read, perfect for a beach....just maybe try and find one no one knows about eh? 😉