To the next person who reads this book:
When protagonist Richard is travelling in Thailand, he learns of a mysterious ‘beach’ which is rumoured to be the last destination left untouched by the tourists. With French couple Etienne and Francoise, Richard sets out to discover if the island where the supposed beach exists is real or not.
Garland’s The Beach was an instant adventure. I was instantly immersed in backpacker culture – it was about the culture of backpackers, rather than the country. Garland draws attention to the fact that essentially there is no difference between ‘tourists’ and ‘travellers’ though travellers continually seek a more genuine experience than tourists.
This point is reinforced even in the way that the characters in the novel seek out ‘the beach’ – which is supposedly untouched by tourists – but in reality, has nothing to do with Vietnamese culture – it is essentially just a community of westerners who live in isolation from the rest of society.
But the island – when Richard finds it – is an adventure. While the colours of it are rich and beautiful, this is juxtaposed with the hallucinations Richard begins to have and the more sinister implications of the power politics on the island which come to the fore; where its inhabitants are endlessly concerned about preserving it as a secret.
Richard’s character unsettles – he is unpredictable in ways that made me uncertain of whether or not his next actions could be trusted. This, I think, was what made this novel so compelling – it wasn’t just the protagonist that was unpredictable, but the entire direction of the plot.