Volume 93, Issue 6
Friday, June 18, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Psychological thriller an exotic summer read
By Alex Garland
What's that old saying... things are not always what they seem?
Alex Garland's first novel, The Beach, epitomizes and abuses this adage from beginning to end. Set in an Asian paradise, he tells the tale of a traveler whose secret utopia turns into a hellish nightmare. Blurring the line between reality and madness, Garland's work is one of the most thought provoking, thrilling and frightening modern novels of the '90s.
Richard is a world traveller, dope monger and young philosopher, always looking for adventure. A bit of a loner, he finds himself in the beautiful islands of Thailand, unsure where to head next. An acquaintance in the same hostel named Mr. Duck commits suicide, but not before compelling Richard to follow his path back to a mythical beach on a mysterious island.
Once there, he finds a group of people who have turned their island paradise into a secret society, based on teamwork and strict order. They've given up their lives in the outside world to live in a place of pure beauty and tranquility. However, as Richard finds out, under the beauty lies a world ruled by horror.
The group mentality and isolation brews the worst kind of chaos when things begin to go wrong. The result is a war which rages between those who need to keep the beach at all costs and those who must escape.
Despite the obvious connection to William Golding's classic Lord of the Flies, Garland manages to make the idea of the madness which accompanies isolation completely his own. The characters all carry a modern, twenty-something wit which makes the dialogue especially entertaining and easy to read. The combination of their primitive life-style and obvious modern influences, often in the form of video games, makes the group easy to relate to, yet at the same time a complete mystery.
The character of Richard is the key to this novel and his slow descent into madness is highlighted by visits from the deceased Mr. Duck and hallucinations of Vietnam. These delusions are depicted so seamlessly, they make the reader question their own perceptions of reality. Again, things are not always what they seem.
Contradictions and manipulations make up the core of this story and are utilized so well, they remain unnoticeable catalysts to the reader until Richard himself identifies them. For example, Garland's knack for knowing when to dwell and when to press on results in an extremely fast-paced story which focuses on a life of leisure. His descriptive talents make the characters models of both purity and absolute evil.
The Beach is a true victory for Garland. He captures a beautiful world and electrifies it with terror in a way never truly experienced before.
Copyright © The Gazette 1999