Clashing Perspectives – The Beach by Alex Garland

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You ever look back at something you read 15 or 20 years ago and have that “A-Ha” moment.

Not the ridiculously good band from the eighties A-Ha (see above), but the mind-altering epiphanic moment when you realize that a plot point that was salient to the whole freaking novel zoomed right the hell over your head. Yup, I had one of those.

I read this book when I was right out of high school and entirely in love with the idea of a wild wonderland. A paradise filled with gorgeous people and no responsibility. I wanted to see, do, and experience that life. I still do now. However, those ideas are now tempered with age, trust, and hopefully, some integrity.  I think in the end, the soundtrack sealed it for me. Does anyone still like the group VAST? They are one of my favorites still to this day because of that movie. From that moment on I set out to read the book “It will change my life,” I thought. Maybe I could eternalize a little of this wild abandon that I so desperately yearned for.

After discovering a seemingly Edenic paradise on an island in a Thai national park, Richard soon finds that since civilized behavior tends to dissolve without external restraints, the utopia is hard to maintain.

Plot summary – goodreads.com

The problem was that when I read the novel, I was left unsettled and feeling dirty. It felt like someone had taken my brain and used it to scour pans for an afternoon. The book was like a beautiful Honey Crisp apple sitting on a shelf, but when you cut into it,

“Trust me, it’s paradise. This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is the generation that travels the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite & never outstay the welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience— And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.”

― Alex Garland, The Beach

the apple had a rotten core filled with maggots. It had not lived up to my fantasies. I felt cheated and weak.  What was actually weak, was my perspective and understanding of life beyond my hometown at the time.  “The Beach” has nothing to do with paradise, but the outlook on what actually constitutes a paradise, the darkness in people, and the lengths of which one would go to protect it.  It is a smart book, and subtle in its narration.  Its overall gravitas was not something I could appreciate at the time, but it is something that I can look back on now and understand.

One of the key things that garland does it keep the undercurrents flowing within the language of the everyday life of the travelers. He describes the day to day tasks that they need to accomplish; Fishing, farming, and partying. While subtly hinting at the darker parts of the characters psyches. Reminds me of a much less ham-fisted and more eloquent “lord of the Flies,” but for a much older audience.  In the end, the characters are scarred both mentally and physically.

“The first I heard of the beach was in Bangkok, on the Ko Sanh Road.” ― Alex Garland, The Beach

If you are looking for a book that tears you up inside a bit, look no further. It is worth the second read, especially if you have some life experiences behind you.

9 comments

  1. Beth very insightful view of this book. As we sometimes experience things in different times in our lives, they can be interpreted with many temperaments.

    Your writing is very good!
    Thank you for sharing
    Looking forward to more
    Heidi Mancini

      1. I think my naive self loved it. The idea of escape and the fact that I could do that at the time. Sorta did a couple times, but always had a return ticket…
        but I did run into that tainted paradise, that vice creeps into everything.

      2. Kinda like a gorgeous piece of cake with worms in the middle. Vice run amok. It was a great experience reading something 20 years apart and reviewing it. Shows how much I have changed and grown, for better or worse.

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