TITLE: The Beach
AUTHOR: Alex Garland
PUBLISHER: Penguin Books
RELEASE DATE: 1996
PAGE COUNT: 436
The Beach is a 1996 bestseller immortalised by a film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio. However, the movie barely scratches the surface of the story. Author Alex Garland is a unique breed of spider – when readers discover themselves tangled in his web, they realise they’ve been trapped all along.
Richard, a gap-year student travelling in Thailand, follows the mysterious Daffy’s map to a secret beach. There he finds a motley community working together to maintain their private paradise. Soon however, the illusion is corrupted and the supposed Utopia becomes a nightmare.
Garland makes writing a large cast of characters look easy. Flat and rounded characters alike read believably with distinct voices, motives, and idiosyncrasies. Richard is a memorable first person narrator. Although he has an authoritative and spellbinding voice, readers grow aware of his unreliability. His disturbing lack of empathy and obsession for danger lead him to cross boundaries that would alienate readers if only they weren’t so immersed in his story.
Daffy is another compelling character – strange considering he’s been dead since the opening chapters. A hellish incarnation of Daffy lives on in Richard’s dream sequences, the sounding board for his frustration and the symbol of his diminishing sanity. This injection of the supernatural gives the book a cool/creepy vibe.
The Beach is excellently paced. Surprisingly for a big book with tiny text, it has no dull patches. The development of both the characters and the plot is airtight, resulting in a riveting story arc. Its pace, timing, and weave of layers build to an epic climax. The Beach is insidious.