The Beach: Alex Garland

I realise I’m pretty late to the party on this one which was a massive hit in the 90s but somehow it just passed me by. This year is the 20th Anniversary of its publication so it was as good a time as any to read it. I think I’ve caught a few minutes of the film and heard a couple of episodes when it was serialised on Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime recently, and of course you’d have to have been living in a hole not to know what the basic premise of The Beach is so I didn’t come to it blind. So did I think it lived up to the hype? In a word, maybe.

In case you have been in the aforementioned hole (no offence!) the plot is basically- British backpacker in Thailand finds secret beach paradise but eventually discovers all is not quite perfect.

It’s definitely a page turner and Richard makes for a good narrator, his character becoming increasingly dark as the book goes on. I guess it’s a little dated now with its references to GameBoys and Street Fighter but as a 90s teenager that still means something to me. And the references to/ parallels with Vietnam films are a good touch. I never took a gap year and I have always felt a little cynical about the Westerner in South East Asia ‘finding themselves’, making a clear distinction between ‘travelling’ and ‘tourism’ and searching for a truly ‘authentic experience’, so I was glad to find that this confirmed my prejudices when it all goes horribly, horribly wrong! (Not that I would wish the type of brutality which does occur on anyone, I should point out!)

Incidentally, not having seen the film (or able to recall any bits that I have seen), does Leonardo DiCaprio play Richard as an American because I’m really not sure how that would work? There seems to be something quintessentially British about his attitude to everything.

4 stars


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