Tuesday, April 20, 2010

'The Beach' by Alex Garland

I was bought a copy of The beach when I was 18 by someone who insisted that I'd love it. I wasn't so sure: the cover was the film tie-in version, prominently featuring Leonardo diCaprio with no shirt on. Hardly my kind of thing to be reading stuff with the twat from Titanic on it. But I gave it a go, and now feel like I owe an awful lot to that book.

The narrative, telling the tale of English backpacker Richard and his slow descent into madness on an island paradise shared by a handful of idealistic travellers, is arresting from start to finish. It awoke a dormant wanderlust in me and carried me along on waves of euphoria, fear, and horniness. Reading it, I felt like I was Richard - with his Vietnam movie fantasies, thwarted sexual desires, and hypocritical longing for a place untrammelled by other tourists.
More importantly, I was discovering for the first time as an adult the power that literature could have on me; a power that went far beyond anything a film or TV show could hope to achieve. Garland has only produced two more novels since (or three, if you count the novelisation of Sunshine, the film he wrote for director Danny Boyle) and while both could well claim to be more accomplished pieces of literature it's unlikely that Garland will ever manage to write anything as thrilling or as resonant as The Beach again. Few have.


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