The Beach by Alex Garland
The world is getting smaller. Thanks to the Internet that unites people across the globe and airplanes that can make journeys in hours that once took years, virtually nowhere on earth in inaccessible. Mostly, that’s a good thing. But for world travelers, I’ve heard this is a real bummer. That everywhere they go, they’re surrounded by Guess jeans and McDonalds. That the terrain is basically spoiled by globalization and no place is unique anymore. But what if there were still a place, hidden away, unknown by all but a select few, and virtually untouched by humankind? Would you want to live there? And what would you do to protect its secrets?
While traveling through Bangkok, Richard shares a room with a ranting Scotsman who soon commits bloody suicide. Before he does, the man leaves a map that leads to a beach many travelers have heard about but can never find, hidden on an island closed to tourists. Richard decides to try to find the beach, accompanied by a French couple. After a secret boat ride and a dangerous swim, they finally make it to the beach and find a well-organized group of about 60 people. Camping out in the jungle, fishing, farming and getting high, they seem to be living in perfect harmony with nature and each other.
Of course, the island peace Richard thinks he sees is tenuous. Island politics and the obsessive need to keep the island secret leads to disastrous consequences. Locals growing drugs on island become more violent. And Richard feels himself growing unhinged, daydreaming/hallucinating he’s in a Vietnam War movie and having long conversations with the dead Scotsman.
I picked up this book because author Alex Garland has been behind some of my favorite scifi/horror movies. From 28 Days Later, to Sunshine, to his excellent (and unforgivably underrated) directorial debut, Ex Machina, Garland’s a master of creating weird, off-kilter worlds that don’t feel unbelievable.
Once again, Garland didn’t let me down. I finished this book in a day. I didn’t mean to, but my “just one more chapter” plans escalated. It’s just hard to put down, as the momentum keeps building. Something’s clearly wrong on this beach, and I didn’t want to move on with my life until Garland showed me what it was. Engrossing, sinister and darkly funny, The Beach stayed with me long after I closed it.