Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Beach

The Beach, by Alex Garland
$15.00 at Amazon.com ISBN: 1573226521
A few years back this was made into a movie with Leo DiCaprio. It was pretty good, but the book, naturally, is better. How Alex Garland ever managed to make a vacation at the beach seem so ominous I'll never know. Richard, the story's hero, is a young guy from Britain who is traveling in Thailand looking for adventure. Since almost everything on Earth is now covered with asphalt and comes with cell-phone signals and a Starbucks, this isn't easy to do. While staying in a seedy hotel in Bangkok, Richard discovers a map to the beach of his dreams, on a forbidden island many miles away. Finding the beach becomes his much sought after adventure, but what will Richard find there?
The trip to the beach makes a thrilling introduction to the story: there's a grisly suicide in one of the first scenes, Richard makes friends with a French couple so he has someone to talk to. It's fun to read about the logistics of travelling someplace so remote: how exactly do you get to an obscure Thai island? It was specifically appealing because it was so hard to reach: no Carnival Cruise Lines for these people.
When they reach their destination, about a quarter of the way through the novel, they find a community of like-minded Europeans, living in isolation where they hope no one will ever find them. There are lots of surprises in this story, too many for me to describe. For one thing, the avant-garde beach resort shares the island with dope farmers armed with AK-47s. And sharks. Vicious, man-eating ones, everywhere. The story plays out a bit like Lord of the Flies, without giving too much away.
What's described is a very common desire: to reconnect with real danger, the visceral and untamed wilderness. Richard, as it happens, was born in the same year I was: 1974. the Vietnam War was long over by the time we came of age, and video games were the closest we ever came to adventure and risk. This is a very exciting novel that takes you far off the beaten path, through a violent and exotic city, past armed guards and deadly pitfalls to a mysterious beach resort hidden in a forbidden lagoon. Never boring for one second, in fact it kept me awake overnight reading it, nor is it too long. In time this may be considered a masterpiece of Generation X literature. For now it's just a cool story about some guy my age who had the time of his life, smoking weed and hanging out on the beach with his friends. Then everyone goes crazy. Enjoy!

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