“There’s this saying: in an all-blue world, colour doesn’t exist… If something seems strange, you question it; but if the outside world is too distant to use as a comparison then nothing seems strange.”
“A Lord of the Flies for Generation X” – how author Nick Hornby described Alex Garland’s The Beach. And a great description it is, of a thoroughly disturbing yet strangely compelling tale of paradise gone wrong.
Richard is a traveller, looking for the ultimate experience, one that takes him away from the usual tourist traps, one that will be unique. In Thailand he meets a man called Daffy, who tells him of a hidden paradise on a secluded island, which sounds exactly like the kind of place Richard is looking for. Though Daffy seems a little crazy and soon commits suicide, Richard is still intrigued, and takes the map Daffy leaves him to make the risky journey to the island with a French couple he met in the hostel. What follows is the discovery of a place and a community that are seemingly beautiful and harmonious, but the discord and sinister undertones soon make themselves known.
The characters in this book all have different feelings about their community and the beach where they live, and as I was reading it, I experienced all of their different emotions. Sal, the leader of the group, is desperate to make it work no matter what the costs. Keaty is laid back and still enjoys some home comforts, like his Gameboy, while Francois is stoic and observant. Daffy, and subsequently Richard, take great pains to absorb every moment of this unique experience, before being completely overwhelmed by it. I myself couldn’t decide if I wanted the group to hang on and try and make it work, or run away and never look back, as Daffy had tried to do. I loved the way Richard slowly seemed to become Daffy’s replacement – it made me look back to their first and only meeting and realise that Daffy’s words were as much of a warning as they were an invitation, only Richard couldn’t see it.
The Beach is a commentary on the excesses of modern life and the desire for escapism, but also asks the question of whether any lifestyle can be perfect. It was written more than 15 years ago but hasn’t really dated; if anything, it seems even more apt. And after writing a post a couple of weeks ago about the best last lines of novels, I realised that this one has a pretty good example.
“I carry a lot of scars. I like the way that sounds. I carry a LOT of scars.”