Richard is a backpacker in his early twenties roaming around the far East in search of something but he doesn't quite know what. He connects with other backpackers on the same nebulous quest - they drink a lot of alcohol and smoke plenty of cannabis. They are always searching for the unspoiled places where they can have some kind of spiritual awakening and resent the places where there are lots of tourists. In Thailand Richard hears rumours of an unspoiled beach and then the person in the next room to him passes on a map - together with two other backpackers Richard makes his way to an isolated island and finds the beach where there exists a community of similar souls who live and love together more or less in harmony.
The author conveys very well the sense of ennui experienced by Richard and his companions. We understand that he sees the systems of the world as false and feels a need to experience something more rather than participating in the lifestyle lived by others. Unfortunately, he doesn't manage (at least not to me) to turn understanding into sympathy - the book seems to be full of a lot of young people who are opting out of the world and seeking fulfilment by lazing around and smoking weed. I may not be the ideal reader for this novel - I suspect that if you liked "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac then this may be an appropriate book for you.
The author does show up the Western lifestyle as false but fails to put anything in its place. The community on the beach consists of ex-patriots from a variety of countries but they don't connect with the lifestyle or the belief system of the Thais in any way at all. They have a self-sufficient community until something goes wrong and then they endanger the lives of their members in an effort to keep the beach secret as though their isolation is more important than human life. In the end, and in fact from the beginning, the beach community is a failed utopia possibly because at no time do its members articulate its purpose and it is possible that they do not all share the same view of the reason for its existence.
Richard is a strange character who is quite isolated from others. He tells the story in quite an emotionless way and we see much more about how he is feeling when he has dreams which involve dialogues with the dead man who gave him the map in the first place. He doesn't really connect with the others and develops an unreasoning hatred of one person which even he cannot explain. He feels that some of what is going on is wrong but is unprepared to do anything about it. He thinks from time to time that his parents must be worried about his disappearance but does nothing about that either. He is difficult to like.
I am not quite sure what the author was trying to do with this book. Was it a reflection that spiritual quests don't work ? Was it a sort of "Lord of the Flies" for adults but somewhere warm ? Are we expected to sympathise with Richard and his quest for meaning ? Does the author intend to show us that everything is essentially meaningless ? I wasn't sure and after I had finished I didn't really care either.
on 24 February 2000
It is a phenomenal and moving book. You can't put it down without knowing what will happen next. I'm a slow reader- I read 'east of eden' by John Steinbeck, in 5 months. 'The Beach' is about the same size and I read it in less than a week. The story makes you realize that we are actually destroying this world at our heart's content. Richard hated going back to civilization. He wanted to stay in paradise because he saw all the destruction whereas others were blind to it. This book also shows how your mind and feelings can change- how paradise can quite easily turn into hell. It was a great experience to read and my advice is- READ THE BOOK- DO NOT SEE THE FILM, IT'S A DISASTER- IT RUINS IT!
on 4 January 2001
I appreciate that a lot of people have enjoyed this book so don't want to go over the top with praise...I think the references to Vietnam give the paradise dark overtones i.e. paradise cannot last forever, history will scar and repeat. The knowledge of the main character that he is going crazy, psychosis, i believe is excellent and catalogues in depth how Richard is influcnced by his surroundings and the death of Daffy. Ultimately, most readers will not completely understand the connections between Vietnam and the beach, aside from the geographical location. I think this is part of the intrigue; the book is dark and mysterious and encourages multiple readings to try and understand it. Even if you only grasp the idea of the break-down of civilisation, the book is compelling and the description of Asia leave a deep impact on the imagination. If you do however, believe that the author is too-hyped up on Vietnam, read his second novel, The Tesseract and you will see a completely different type of book, though with a complex make-up. In short an excellent first novel and well-worth its money as it can be read so many times without losing the edge. On a lighter note, Leonado DiCaprio was a pathetic cast for Richard, with no dark side and a sad attempt at going round the bend.
This book is very well-written, capturing the reader's attention from the start. A travel-fiction set in Thailand, following a backpacker as he searches for the perfect 'Eden', a place unsullied by other tourists; 'The Beach'.
For a first novel it's fantastic; it kept me going back and reading. I read half of it in one stint, but then had to slow down a little due to work. The characters are believable and the society in which they work is convincing too. It is funny (if you're into black humour...), witty, and human.
My only problem, possibly due to hype from the film (which I haven't seen yet...), was that I felt the book was building and building to a huge climax, and then when it got to the end I felt a little letdown and like the payoff I was expecting hadn't arrived. The book is definitely worth reading and I'd recommend it to anybody, but just don't go in with expectations. Chances are it will differ from them.
on 21 December 2015
What a self-indulgent bunch of people on the hidden beach of the title. Having found what appears to them to be an ideal place to live they have set up a commune, laze about, smoke a lot of pot and enjoy the swimming and sun-bathing. The narrator, Richard, and two French travellers have aquired a map which enables them to find the island and,surprisingly, are accepted by the others. The island is supposed to be off-limits to travellers, presumably to prevent it from becoming over-run with back-packers although a quasi-military group have set up a marijuana farm above the hidden beach. The commune, led by Sal, a relatively sensible woman do all they can to prevent others joining although why they think they have the right to do so when they are illegaly there themselves is rather silly. The central character, Richard, has few redeeming features; he smokes a lot of weed, smokes even more cigarettes, plays battery-powered electronic games,never appears to read a book and converses in mild hippy-talk. All harmless to others but loses my sympathy when he hides a man's body that he and a friend found on another, inhabited, island to avoid having to advise the authorities. Never mind the man's family. On this point, the whole group appeared to think it OK to bury one of their number following a fatal accident without any attempt to trace his parents and let them know, simply because it would reveal their location.
There are other absurdities, such as the fact that Sal provides cash for shopping trips to another island when none of them have paid employment., This bunch of travellers would appall the local Thai people.
on 23 February 2015
This is a particularly tricky book to read if you've already seen the movie, as many people will have. Discovering that Richard, the main protagonist - who we all know is "really" Leonardo DiCaprio - is actually a Brit who is given to making fun of the vacuity of American tourists causes a little bit of an adjustment shock.
But once you've got past that minor issue, this is an absorbing read. Garland is not a great writer by any stretch of the imagination, but he very successfully captures that typically restless, almost-spiritual quest for a pure travel experience that backpackers strive for, against the backdrop of a Thailand that is rapidly being 'contaminated' (as he sees it) by mass tourism. Drawn into a drop-out community living in isolation from the world on a secret idyllic beach, Richard is confronted with the question of whether it is actually possible 'to re-create Eden' with a community of people who have little in common except their shared discovery, and their need to keep it a secret from the outside world. And is the availability of virtually limitless, free marijuana a godsend or a curse?
The descriptions of the beach would give anyone travel envy, but the book has a deeply unsettling core, especially in the recurring image of 'Daffy Duck', the crazy Scotsman who gives Richard a map to the beach before killing himself. Ultimately, most readers will end up half-wishing they could have an adventure like Richard's, and half being glad that they actually stayed at home in Watford.
on 21 August 2006
This has to be one of my favourite all-time novels. 'The Beach' is a stunning combination of an excellent plotline and a great style of writing.
Garland's first novel touches deep into the soul and draws parallels between modern life and war through themes such as the jungle and the contrast between paradise and hell on the same island. I don't know if Garland intended it - but I consdier The Beach to be one of the most meaningful books to come out of the 90's.
on 13 August 2003
I read this book before watching the film, and I loved it. The descriptions are so vivid you get transported to another world. My only complaint was that I found it hard to empathise with the main character, Richard. I think this is true of the film as well.
Richard is a backpacker who has set off alone to Thailand. On his first night on the Kao San Road he meets Daffy, a fellow traveller (a very scary character! - this haunted me after seeing the film!). The next morning, Richard goes to find Daffy and sees him dead in his hotel room, having slit his wrists. However Daffy has left behind a map to the 'beach' - and the setting for the rest of the story.
The beach is an amazing community on a private island. The idyllic beauty of the area is overshadowed by the dope farmers that the islanders share their home with. This adds danger - especially when Richard and others are nearly caught in the dope fields by the Thai farmers with their guns.
Eventually the island life begins to fall apart, with strangers arriving at the island and people being bitten by sharks. The leader of the community refuses to let anyone go to the mainland for hospital treatment and this causes a rift in the community.
This book has stayed with me since I read it about 4 years ago. I have read it several times since, even though I hardly ever read a book more than once. And I was one of the few people who actually enjoyed the film, although I thought the book was better. I think my knowledge of the book enhanced my enjoyment of the film. This book made me want to visit Thailand.
on 30 July 2014
First published in 1996 this book had passed me by. I think many of us have dreamed about finding an isolated beach with plenty of food and fresh water and getting away from it all. This is exactly what the backpackers in this book find with the added benefit of a constant supply of dope.
Unfortunately the chain smoking main character, Richard can't resist leaving a map behind of their secret destination and so his troubles begin because the beach would not be paradise if it was constantly visited by tourists.
There are already 30 plus people at this dream location and it is interesting how they allocate duties and protect their isolation.
Richard has a duel character, Mr Duck, probably fuelled by his access to unlimited dope . Sometimes the interchanges between the two was a little confusing but on reflection it was an interesting part of the story.
Recommended to anybody who is adventurous enough to try something a little bit different.
on 15 July 2014
Whilst I found this book a little hard to get into at the beginning, I did get gripped by the story after a few pages. The writing is quite simple, which means the plot moves along at a good pace. It's the story of a traveller in Thailand who discovers, along with two friends, a utopian beach. There were some things I was unconfortable with. First, the protagonist suffers from hallucinations for the whole duration of the book, and I felt that kind of magical realism quite hard to get along with. I didn't feel those episodes were necessary to the story or helped it at all. Another thing I didn't really like was the character of Françoise, a beautiful French girl whom the narrator is in love with. Like in many other books I have read, this beautiful female character has no other defining characteristics apart from her beauty, and yet she is fallen in love with. She wasn't particularly funny or interesting, so I found it difficult to understand why the narrator felt the way he did. I would have liked her to be more detailed, to have more depth. All in all, though, despite these faults, I did find the book quite riveting and read it almost in one sitting. I would recommend it as a beach read for the summer.