THE BEACH by Alex Garland


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 A mesmerizing first novel, already a hit in the author's native England, that manages to be many things at once: a smart look at a generation way beyond mere disillusionment, an anti- travelogue to the most exotic of locales, a study in small-group psychology, and a convincing profile in madness. All this, and the dynamics of a fast-paced thriller. The narrator, Richard, adrift in ``backpacker land'' (i.e., Southeast Asia), craves ``something different,'' the ultimate travel spot unspoiled by his own kind. Like most of the travelers he meets, Richard's bored with the usual dissonance of Thailand and Burma. His problems are solved (or just begin) when a crazed suicidal Scotsman, his neighbor in a Bangkok flophouse, leaves him a map to a new Eden, a beach on an uncharted island off-limits to tourists. With a French couple who also crave new thrills, Richard begins his journey ``in country,'' his lingo drawn from the Vietnam War as filtered through TV and movies. A gruelling trek brings the three to ``the Beach,'' a remote strip of perfect nature reached after forging a dense jungle, crossing a marijuana field guarded by armed natives, and then jumping into a 40-foot waterfall. Once there, the three are welcomed by the strange commune of international drifters who have nurtured their compound over six years, surviving on spearfishing, local produce, and lots of pot. Like characters from an adult Lord of the Flies, the 30 or so inhabitants polarize into groups, and chaos descends after a series of ugly incidents. As nutty as Richard seems to grow, the commune's leader is even crazier in her desire to preserve a glorious isolation. The horrors accrue as the moral ambiguity deepens. Garland owes as much to Conrad and Golding as he does to Coppola, Stone, and Warner Brothers cartoons, and it's that wild mix that helps make for a riveting read. (First printing of 150,000; $150,000 ad/promo; Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1997
ISBN: 1-57322-048-5
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1996


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