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Beach Life Deja Vu
The Beach - Alex Garland
Member Name: Pinotage
The Beach - Alex Garland
Date: 28/01/01, updated on 28/01/01 (77 review reads)
Advantages: Authentic gritty gripping tale - hard to put down.
Disadvantages: Why couldn't they all live happily ever after?
Soldiers came out of the jungle, stepping from the warm darkness into the pool of illumination outside the headman's bamboo house. Our guide whispered they were a drug lords troops. We had seen nearby plots of marijuana and fields of opium poppies. They wore dark green military uniform and carried guns and machetes. Two Australian nurses decided it would be an opportunity to increase their stock of recreational drugs and went to speak with the men. The girls came rushing back, excitedly digging through their belongings for hidden money. I am not brave and I was scared. These men could take everything. We were a small trekking group in an Akha village perched on a high ridge miles from the nearest road. If they killed us no one might ever find out, and these girls were flaunting their money, gold watches and buxom bodies. Luckily the soldiers traded drugs, ate some food and melted back into the night.
Alex Garland's The Beach reminded me of that time. I read it when it first came out in paperback and it struck so many chords with me. Just like Richard, I have been in those plywood rooming houses with the mesh up to the ceiling. I've made the same overland rail/coach/ferry trip from Bangkok to Koh Samui, been scared by drug soldiers, and I've been on The Island.
And I didn't want to, and nearly didn't, return to the world. If I had found what Richard found in the book, I would have stayed.
I dreamed of staying. Garland did the same as me but transcribed that dream into this book.
I devoured this book. It had the ring of authenticity. It accurately depicted the lazy life of backpackers, the drifting away of the days and the harder truths that lie underneath the pampered life that is paradise for rich westerners.
The story - for anyone who doesn't know - tells how Richard, an English backpacker in Thailand, is given a map of a hidden backpacker's community on a paradise island, his journey
to it with two companions and life there. Yet paradise has to be shared with armed drug soldiers. Richard descends into a type of nightmare delusion and is the cause of a final catastrophe that ends life there.
There are echoes of Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies, and yet it is an original novel that incorporates many themes and can be read on many levels.
I was infuriated when I read a movie company shooting The Beach was destroying the beach on Koh Phi Phi and I decided never to watch the film. But recently I was on a long haul flight and saw it on the seat back movie channel. On my return I reread the book. The film stripped out the basic idea - map, island, community - and dumped everything else that makes the book so good.
Forget the film, read the book.