#11. The Beach by Alex Garland
A very impressive first novel that mixes Lord of the Flies with Heart of Darkness and one seriously bad acid trip. While vacationing in Bangkok, Richard learns of a secret Eden-like island and convinces a French couple to join him in his search of it. Once found he believes he's entered paradise. And he can stay there, forever, that is unless the Thai men with guns on the other side of the island guarding the dope fields decide to exterminate everyone. Or, you know, if that map he left behind becomes problematic.
Mmm I like when characters slowly grow crazy. And Garland does that well to our neurotic leading man. The conversations Richard has with oh-so-dead Daffy (aka Mister Duck) are fascinatingly disturbing. Yet, by the remaining thirty pages, one might guess he was the sanest of the bunch. Observations are nailed perfectly, and the layout of the beach and who is where and when never became too much to absorb. Sure, not everything is exactly clear, but, much like Richard does, you just keep going on until you figure things out for yourself.
I wanted to read this after seeing the movie version starring that blonde kid from Growing Pains, and I have to admit a bit of shock in how different the book turned out. Yet another case for why books are always better than their moving pictures counterpart. But I guess the outright dismembering of dead bodies is frowned upon in a film showcasing sky-blue waters, miles of perfect tan sand, and beautiful people in bathing suits.
Still, good stuff. A lot of tension and suspense kept me turning the pages, and something about the way Garland handled his characters had them standing out very well on the pages. From Bugs to Jed to Sal, they all had jobs and quirks and things that they liked about living on the beach. I myself might never have taken such a journey, but I'm glad that Richard did, just so I now know what to expect if some drunk Scotsman hands me a map and offers me Vietnam. I'll say, "No thanks. What else you got?"