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The award-winning bestseller and cult hit that The Village Voice called "a truly awesome piece of work."
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The first I heard of the beach was in Bangkok, on the Ko Sanh Road. The Ko Sanh Road was backpacker land. Almost all the buildings had been converted to guest houses, there were long-distance telephone booths with air-con, the cafés showed brand-new Hollywood films on video, and you couldn't walk ten feet without passing a bootleg tape stall. The main function of the street was as a decompression chamber for those about to leave or enter Thailand; a halfway house between the East and the West.
I'd landed at Bangkok in the late afternoon, and by the time I got to Ko Sanh it was dark. My taxi driver winked and told me that at one end of the street was a police station, so I asked him to drop me off at the other end. I wasn't planning on crime but I wanted to oblige his conspiratorial charm. Not that it made much difference at which end one stayed, because the police obviously weren't active. I caught the smell of grass as soon as I got out of the cab, and half the travelers weaving past me were stoned.
The driver left me outside a guest house with an eating area open to the street. As I studied it, checking the clientele to gauge what kind of place it was, a thin man at the table nearest me leaned over and touched my arm. I glanced down. He was, I guessed, one of the heroin hippies that float around India and Thailand. He'd probably come to Asia ten years ago and turned an occasional dabble into an addiction. His skin was old, though I'd have believed he was in his thirties. The way he was looking at me, I had the feeling I wasbeing sized up as someone to rip off.
"What?" I said warily.
He pulled an expression of surprise and held up the palms of his hands. Then he curled his finger and thumb into the O-shaped perfection sign, and pointed into the guest house.
"It's a good place?"
I looked again at the people around the tables. They were mostly young and friendly-looking, some watching the TV and some chattering over their dinner.
"Okay." I smiled at him in case he wasn't a heroin addict but just a friendly mute. "I'm sold."
He returned the smile and turned back to the video screen.
Quarter of an hour later I was settling into a room that was a little larger than a double bed. I can be accurate about it because there was a double bed in the room, and on each of its four sides there was a foot of space. My bag could just slide into the gap.
One wall was concretethe side of the building. The others were Formica and bare. They moved when I touched them. I had the feeling that if I leaned against one it would fall over and maybe hit another, and all the walls of the neighboring rooms would collapse like dominoes. Just short of the ceiling, the walls stopped, and across the space was a strip of metal mosquito netting. The netting almost upheld the illusion of being in a confined, personal area, until I lay down on my bed. As soon as I relaxed, I began to hear cockroaches scuttling around in the other rooms.
At my head end I had a French couple in their late teensa beautiful, slim girl with a suitably handsome boy attached. They'd been leaving their room as I got to mine and we exchanged nods as we passed in the corridor. The other end was empty. Through the netting I could see that the light was off, and anyway, if it had been occupied I would have heard the person breathing. It was the last room on the corridor, so I presumed it faced the street and had a window.
On the ceiling was a fan, strong enough on full setting to stir the air. For a while I did nothing but lie on the bed and look up at it. It was calming, following the revolutions, and with the mixture of heat and soft breeze, I felt I could drift to sleep. That suited me. West to east is the worst for jet lag, and I wanted to fall into the right sleeping pattern on the first night.
I switched off the light. Enough of a glow from the corridor outside came through for me to still see the fan. Soon I was asleep.
Once or twice I was aware of people in the corridor, and I thought I heard the French couple coming back, then leaving again. But the noises never woke me fully and I was always able to slip back into the dream I'd been having before. Until I heard the man's footsteps. They were different, too creepy to doze through. They had no rhythm or weight and dragged on the floor.
A muttered stream of English swearwords floated into my room as he jiggled the padlock on his door. Then there was a loud sigh, the lock opened with a click, and his light came on. The mosquito netting cast a patterned shadow on my ceiling.
Frowning, I looked at my watch. It was two in the morninglate afternoon, English time. I wondered if I might get back to sleep.
The man slumped onto his bed, giving the wall between us an alarming shake. He coughed awhile, then I heard the crackle of a joint being rolled. Soon there was blue smoke caught in the light, rolling through the netting.
Aside from the occasional deep exhalation, he was silent. I drifted back to sleep, almost.
* * *
"Bitch," said a voice. I opened my eyes.
"Fucking bitch. We're both as good as ..."
The voice paused for a coughing fit.
I was wide awake now, so I sat up in bed.
"Cancer in the corals, blue water, my bitch. Fucking Christ, did me in," the man continued.
He had an accent but at first my sleep-fogged head couldn't place it.
"Bitch," he said again, spitting out the word.
A Scottish accent. Beach.
There was a scrabbling sound on the wall. For a moment I thought he might be trying to push it over, and I had a vision of myself being sandwiched between the Formica board and the bed. Then his head appeared through the mosquito netting, silhouetted, facing me.
"Hey," he said.
I didn't move. I was sure he couldn't see into my room.
"Hey. I know you're listening. In there, I know you're awake."
He lifted up a finger and gave the netting an exploratory poke. It popped away from where it was stapled to the Formica. His hand stuck through.
A glowing red object sailed through the darkness, landing on the bed in a little shower of sparks. The joint he'd been smoking. I grabbed it to stop it from burning the sheets.
"Yeah," said the man, and laughed quietly. "Got you now. I saw you take the butt."
For a few seconds I couldn't get a handle on the situation. I kept thinkingwhat if I actually had been asleep? The sheets might have caught fire. I might have burned to death. The panic flipped into anger, but I suppressed it. The man was way too much of a random element for me to lose my temper. I could still only see his head and that was backlit, in shadow.
Holding up the joint, I asked, "Do you want this back?"
"You were listening," he replied, ignoring me. "Heard me talking about the beach."
"... You've got a loud voice."
"Tell me what you heard."
"I didn't hear anything."
"... Heard nothing?"
He paused for a moment, then pressed his face into the netting. "You're lying."
"No. I was asleep. You just woke me up ... when you threw this joint at me."
"You were listening," he hissed.
"I don't care if you don't believe me."
"I don't believe you."
"Well ... I don't care ... Look." I stood on the bed so our heads were at the same level, and held up the joint to the hole he'd made. "If you want this, take it. All I want is to go to sleep."
As I lifted my hand he pulled back, moving out of the shadow. His face was flat like a boxer's, the nose busted too many times to have any form, and his lower jaw was too large for the top half of his skull. It would have been threatening if not for the body it was attached to. The large jaw tapered into a neck so thin it seemed incredible that it supported his head, and his T-shirt hung slackly on coat hanger shoulders.
Past him I saw into his room. There was a window, as I'd assumed, but he'd taped it up with pages from a newspaper. Apart from that it was bare.
His hand reached through the gap and plucked the butt from my fingers.
"Okay," I said, thinking I'd gained some kind of control. "Now leave me alone."
"No," he replied flatly.
"Why not? What do you ... Do you want something?"
"Yep." He grinned. "I want lots. And that's why"again he pushed his face into the netting"I won't leave you alone."
But as soon as he said it he seemed to change his mind. He ducked out of sight, obscured by the angle of the wall. I stayed standing for a couple of seconds, confused but wanting to reinforce my authoritylike it wasn't me stepping down, just him. Then I heard him relight his joint. I let that mark the end of it and lay back down on the bed.
Even after he'd switched his light off, twenty or so minutes later, I still couldn't get back to sleep. I was too keyed up, too much stuff was running through my head. Beaches and bitches, exhaustion; jumpy with adrenaline. Perhaps, given an hour of silence, I might have relaxed, but soon after the man's light went out the French couple came back to their room and started having sex.
It was impossible, hearing their panting and feeling the vibrations of their shifting bed, not to visualize them. The brief glimpse of the girl's face I'd caught in the corridor was stuck in my head. An exquisite face. Dark skin and dark hair, brown eyes. Full lips.
After they'd finished I had a powerful urge for a cigarette, empathy maybe, but I stopped myself. I knew that if I did they'd hear me rustling the packet or lighting the match. The illusion of their privacy would be broken.
Instead I concentrated on lying as still as I could, for as long as I could. It turned out I could do it for quite a long while.
The Ko Sanh Road woke early. At five, muffled car horns began sounding off from the street outside, Bangkok's version of the dawn chorus. Then the water pipes under the floor started to rattle as the guest house staff took their showers. I could hear their conversations, the plaintive sound of Thai rising above the splashing water.
Lying on my bed, listening to the morning noises, I felt the tension of the previous night become unreal and distant. Although I couldn't understand what the staff were saying to each other, their chattering and occasional laughter conveyed a sense of normality. They were doing what they did every morning, their thoughts only connected to routine. I imagined they might be discussing who would go for kitchen supplies in the market that day or who would be sweeping the halls.
Around five-thirty a few door bolts clicked open as the early-bird travelers emerged and the die-hard partygoers from Patpong returned. Two German girls clattered up the wooden stairs at the far end of my corridor, apparently wearing clogs. I realized that the dreamless snatches of sleep I'd managed were finished, so I decided to have a cigarette, the one I'd denied myself a few hours before.
The early-morning smoke was a tonic. I gazed upward, an empty matchbox for an ashtray balanced on my stomach, and every puff I blew into the ceiling fan lifted my spirits a little higher. Before long my mind turned to thoughts of food. I left my room to see if there was any breakfast to be had in the eating area downstairs.
There were already a few travelers at the tables, dozily sipping glasses of black coffee. One of them, still sitting in the same chair as yesterday evening, was the helpful mute/heroin addict. He'd been there all night, judging by his glazed stare. As I sat down I gave him a friendly smile and he tilted his head in reply.
I began studying the menu, a once white sheet of paper with such an extensive list of dishes that I felt making a choice was beyond my ability. Then I was distracted by a delicious smell. A kitchen boy had wandered over with a tray of fruit pancakes. He distributed them to a group of Americans, cutting off a good-natured argument about train times to Chiang Mai.
One of them noticed me eyeing their food and he pointed at his plate. "Banana pancakes," he said. "The business."
I nodded. "They smell pretty good."
"Taste better. English?"
"Been here long?"
"Since yesterday evening. You?"
"A week," he replied, and popped a piece of pancake in his mouth, looking away as he did so. I guessed that signaled the end of the exchange.
The kitchen boy came over to my table and stood there, gazing at me expectantly through sleepy eyes.
"One banana pancake, please," I said, obliged into making a snap decision.
"You wan' order one banan' pancake?"
"You wan' order drink?"
"Uh, a Coke. No, a Sprite."
"You wan' one banan' pancake, one Spri'."
He strolled back toward the kitchen, and a sudden warm swell of happiness washed over me. The sun was bright on the road outside. A man was setting up his stall on the pavement, arranging bootleg tapes into rows. Next to him a small girl sliced pineapples, cutting the tough skin into neat, spiraling designs. Behind her an even smaller girl used a rag to keep the flies at bay.
I lit my second cigarette of the day, not wanting it, just feeling it was the right thing to do.
The French girl appeared without her boyfriend and without any shoes. Her legs were brown and slim, her skirt short. She padded delicately through the café. We all watched her. The heroin mute, the group of Americans, the Thai kitchen boys. We all saw the way she moved her hips to slide between the tables, and the silver bracelets on her wrists. When her eyes glanced around the room we looked away, and when she turned to the street we looked back.
After breakfast I decided to have a wander around Bangkok, or at the very least, the streets around Ko Sanh. I paid for my food and headed for my room to get some more cash, thinking I might need to get a taxi somewhere.
There was an old woman at the top of the stairs, cleaning the windows with a mop. Water was pouring off the glass and down to the floor. The lady herself was completely soaked, and as the mop lurched around the windows it skimmed dangerously close to a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
"Excuse me," I said, checking I wasn't about to be included in the puddle of potential death that was expanding on the floor. She turned around. "That light is dangerous with the water."
"Yes," she replied. Her teeth were either black and rotten or as yellow as mustard, and it looked like she had a mouth fall of wasps. "Hot-hot." She deliberately brushed the light bulb with the edge of her mop. Water boiled angrily on the bulb and a curl of steam rose up to the ceiling.
I shuddered. "Careful! The electricity could kill you."
"Yes but ..." I paused, seeing that I was onto a nonstarter language-wise, then decided to soldier on.
I glanced around. We were the only two people on the landing.
I began a short mime of mopping down the windows before sticking my imaginary mop into the light. Then I began jerking around, electrocuted.
She placed a shriveled hand on my arm to stop my convulsions.
"Hey, man," she drawled in a voice too high-pitched to describe as mellow. "It cool."
I raised my eyebrows, not sure I'd heard her words correctly.
"Chill," she added. "No worry."
"Right," I said, trying to accept the union of Thai crone and hippy jargon with grace. She'd clearly been working on the Ko Sanh Road a long time. Feeling chided, I started walking down the corridor to my room. "Hey," she called after me. "Le'er for you, man."
I stopped. "A what?"
"Le'er! On you door!"
I nodded my thanks, wondering how she knew which was my room, and continued down the corridor. Sure enough, taped to my door was an envelope. On it was written, "Here is a map," in labored joined-up writing. I was still so surprised at the old woman's strange vocabulary that I took the letter in my stride.
The woman watched me from down the corridor, leaning on her mop. I held up the envelope. "Got it. Thanks. Do you know who it's from?"
She frowned, not understanding the question.
"Did you see anybody put this here?"
I started another little mime and she shook her head.
"Well, anyway, thanks."
"No worry," she said, and returned to her windows.
A couple of minutes later I was sitting on my bed with the ceiling fan chilling the back of my neck and the map in my hands. Beside me the empty envelope rustled under the breeze. Outside the old woman clanked up the stairs with her mop and bucket to the next level.
The map was beautifully colored in. The islands' perimeters were drawn in green ink, and little blue pencil waves bobbed in the sea. A compass sat in the top right-hand corner, carefully segmented into sixteen points, each with an arrow tip and appropriate bearing. At the top of the map it read, "Gulf of Thailand," in thick red marker. A thinner red pen had been used for the island names.
It was so carefully drawn that I had to smile. It reminded me of geography homework and tracing paper. A brief memory surfaced of my teacher handing out exercise books and sarcastic quips.
"So who's it from?" I muttered, and checked the envelope once more for an accompanying note of explanation. It was empty.
Then on one of a cluster of small islands I noticed a black mark. An X mark. I looked closer. Written underneath in tiny letters was the word "Beach."
I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to say to him. I was curious, partly, just wanting to know what the deal was with this beach of his. Also I was pissed off. It seemed like the guy was set on invading my holiday, freaking me out by hissing through the mosquito netting in the middle of the night and leaving strange maps for me to find.
His door was unlocked, the padlock missing. I listened outside a minute before knocking, and when I did the door swung open.
In spite of the newspaper pages stuck over the windows, there was enough light coming in for me to see. The man was lying on the bed, looking up at the ceiling. I think he'd slit his wrists. Or it could have been his neck. In the gloom, with so much blood splashed about, it was hard to tell what he'd slit. But I knew he'd done the cutting. There was a knife in his hand.
I stood still, gazing at the body for a couple of moments. Then I went to get help.
What People are saying about this
“What makes The Beach a truly awesome piece of work is Garland’s understated, assured depiction of the perils of pop...Is The Beach a Gen X novel? I concede to the marketing people on this one and depart here, cowed.” The Village Voice
“You have in your hands one great book...The Beach will astonish readers.Garland manages to hook in the reader from the first page...The Beach builds to a crackling finale, complete with interesting moral questions.Not since reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History has this reader been so impressed and taken with a first novel.”USA Today
“Generation X has its first great novel...The Beach is an awesome first novel that works as an adventure story, an allegory and an explanation for why every human since Adam and Eve has an irresistible impulse to create a perfect world and destroy it. Garland’s literary antecedents are Lord of the Flies and On the Road, with maybe a little Animal Farm thrown in for extra nastiness, and it is a testament to his achievement that The Beach can hang with those classics on a purely literary level and as a postmodern update of them...A wonderful adventure and allegory that may be the best novel written by anyone currently younger than 30.” Sunday Oregonian
“The novel’s detailed account of their journey...is not only suspenseful but surprisingly plausible..Alex Garland...has a clear, engaging storytelling style and a vivid imagination. Deftly, he uses real-life travel detailssmells, optical effects, quirks of language, social ritualsto keep the reader’s disbelief at bay. For about two-thirds of the way, his novel is a genuine page turner, full of color and menace. . . . the final chapters are suitably nightmarish and exciting...The Beach is impressive in its group portrait of a new generation of young vagabonds. Raised in an era of diminished confidence, they have set out in search of something that feels genuine and fulfilling. What they find turns out to be not utopia but hell.” The New York Times Book Review
“Remarkable....astonishingly assured....The Beach is distinguished by Garland’s bracingly transparent prose and tells a classic story of generational envy and displacement. Echoing Dog Soldier as much as Lord of the Flies, Garland discovers the hell lurking in heaven’s tide pools while delivering as much karmic payback as anything since Treasure Island. Primitives vs. sophisticates, nature vs. culture, life vs. artit’s all here, in language whose gripping and deceptive simplicity masks something dreadful and true. Garland’s timeless fluid sentences seem to seek the clarity that Hemingway sought, without descending into self-parody for an instant....The book concludes perfectly, with an image as confusingly beautiful as modern primitivism gets....Garland’s deceptively transparent book would have been just as momentous and refreshing if it had been written 20 years ago. Take it for what it is: a luminous voyage into the dark side of humanity’s increasingly tenuous dreams of paradise.” Salon
“This much-hyped first novel manages to transcend the P.R. BS. A riveting read about disaffected twenty-somethings searching for a real-life Eden as they backpack through the pop-culture wasteland of Asia.” Details
“Generation X meets Lord of the Flies in this ripping good adventure yarn...Garland shows a precociously sure hand in this taut, exotic thriller. For a young author, he knows too well the peril of finding paradise on earth...a skillful first novel about the demise of an earthly paradise.” People
“[G]ripping, intelligent and written with a discipline many young writers only grow into." New York Newsday
“The Beach makes for a relevant and fascinating read....an excellent critique of the backpacker phenomenonits nouveau colonialism and its tragically misdirected idealism.” Time Out
“Garland’s provocative stylesomewhere between Joseph Conrad, Bret Easton Ellis, and Stephen Kingcreates a modern-day Eden where Nintendo Game-boy, "Apocalypse Now," and a drug-trafficking Thai militia blend seamlessly into the landscape.” Vogue
“A mesmerizing first novel that manages to be many things at once: a smart look at a generation way beyond mere disillusionment, an anti-travelogue to the most exotic of locales, a study in small-group psychology, and a convincing profile in madness. All this, and the dynamics of a fast-paced thriller....Garland owes as much to Conrad and Golding as he does to Coppola, Stone, and Warner Brothers cartoons, and it’s that wild mix that helps make for a riveting read." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Garland is a wonder; he’s able to write unrelentingly suspenseful, downright hallucinatory action scenes, then balance them with passages of chillingly accurate psychology. His intensely imagined tale is, on one level, a brilliant update of The Lord o the Flies, and on another, a wholly original and unsettling depiction of psyches shaped by the bewildering messages of Loony Tunes, "Apocalypse Now," Nintendo, and the age-old cult of oblivion. The Beach has cult status scrawled all over it." Booklist (starred review)
“This impressive debut by a 26-year-old British writer could well achieve the cult status of William Golding’s nightmarish 1954 classic, Lord of the Flies, with which it shares a themethe dark side of human nature that’s exposed when the thin veneer of ‘civilization’ is rubbed off through an encounter with raw nature. . . . [T]he author masterfully manages to maintain the suspense as it begins to boil over. Highly recommended.” Library Journal
“This 26-year-old Londoner’s atmospheric debut novel, The Beach, may follow Trainspotting across the pondand wash up on our shores as the Next Big Thing.” Time Out
“Amphetamine-paced...Garland is a good storyteller...and Richard’s nicotine-fueled narrative of how the denizens of the beach see their comity shatter and break into factions is taut with suspense.” Publishers Weekly
“This exceptional first novel by twenty-six-year-old Alex Garland creates a picture of an ideal society gone awry...An action novel that provokes subtle responses, The Beach takes in ideas about man’s inevitable progress from noble savage to social breakdown–the line of thought followed by Golding and by Aldous Huxley in Island–but it is also concerned with the related tradition of nature versus art.” The Times Literary Supplement
“At only 26, [Alex Garland] has written one of the most gripping and intelligent pieces of fiction I’ve read in a while...Read it and you’ll want to recommend it to everyone you meet.” The Bookseller
“The Beach is a gripping adventure and also a fascinating jigsaw...Cleanly written, strongly driven, this is a terrific debut.” The Times Newspaper
“Lord of the Flies and The Magus lurk at the roots of this novel, but Garland reshapes them with panache into something terrifyingly new.” Mail on Sunday
Meet the Author
Alex Garland is the author of the bestselling generational classic The Beach and of The Tesseract, a national bestseller and New York Times Notable Book. He also wrote the original screenplay of the critically acclaimed film 28 Days Later.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book rocks it is much better thain the movie, in the movie a bunch of things dont make anysence but in the book it all makes sence and the ending was mind blowing, this has got to be my fav book from the video game refrences and vietnam,its a rad book u gotta read it i cant wait to check out some other of ALex Garlands books..............................................read the book on x it blows your mind
All hang out at the beach,dancing and listeng to the blastin music, eating s'mores, walking on the beach and juggling banjos. Giggles: Hey bikers, you guys should join our party! Ceecat: hey giggles, those are some rad skits. Says ceecat pointing at giggles pink top with the glittery beads and matching skirt. Giggles: I keep moving them Ceecat, and they cannnt stoppp!!! Says giggles shaking the beads on her outfit. Brady and Mack laugh. They were all having fun on the warm crisp night air and the colorful lights lit up on Big Mommas porch was breathtaking and beutiful:)
The Beach is sort of a cross between Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now. It's a wonderfully intense story! While Richard is backpacking through southeast Asia, he discovers the map to "the Beach", which is supposedly a mythical Eden commune. Richard and a young French couple make it to this deserted island and discover paradise. They swim, fish, dance and have access to all the marijuana they can smoke. Then things start to go bad when two catastrophes happen in the same week. The tenuous order that these people hold starts to slide away into chaos. People become paranoid and dangerous and in the end some lose their humanity. The Beach hooked me in right from the beginning with it's exotic storyline, beautiful scenery and great writing. The New York Times Book Review called The Beach "....impressive in its group portrait of a new generation of young vagabonds. Raised in an era of diminished confidence, they have set out in search of something that feels genuine and fulfilling. What they find turns out to be not utopia but hell."