I’d avoided reading The Beach for years, irrationally dismissing it as pretentious tosh for the middle classes. This opinion was partly derived from the fact that everyone seemed to be raving about it as soon as it was published – usually something that will consistently get my back up. Also, it seemed to me that the sort of people were raving about were pretentious middle classers, and other irritating people who would inevitably lay claim to the book with? lines such as ?Oh, I can SO relate to that??
Of course, I was wrong about all of this – aside from the pretentious middle classers, they’re all still out there and as annoying as ever.
I saw the movie of The Beach on TV a few years back and found it interesting enough to pick up a second-hand copy of the book. I’m always keen to see how a book evolves from page to screen and will often read books of films I’ve enjoyed (not novelizations, please – though The Abyss was quite good). This enthusiasm to directly tap into the literary source of the film resulted in the book sitting on my shelf for the next couple of years until finally I decided it was time to read it. Maybe I just wanted to leave enough time for the film to fade from memory.
The first surprise for me was that while Alex Garland is a capable writer, he’s not a great one. I found this strangely comforting. During my period of Beachy-abstinence I had generally assumed that it was a dense, literary novel, and one that was probably prone to passages of magic realism. Like most people, dense, literary novels leave me feeling daunted and inadequate as if my puny brain isn?t up to the meagre task of reading words.
Fortunately this wasn’t the case. The Beach is eminently accessible, even if you haven’t been to Thailand – and neither does it rub your nose in the fact that you haven?t been to Thailand. Garland also makes the central character, who is a bit of a twat really, come across as fairly sympathetic, which is no mean feat.
In general a satisfying read, but I sense that Garland may be one of those writers who just has one good book in him. I can’t say I feel the urge to pick up The Tesseract or The Coma just yet.
Come to think of it The Coma sounds quite interesting…