Pupil Contributions, Clifton College

Pupil Contributions, Clifton College

Mima Williams: 19/12/16

Unfortunately, in modern society, perfection is simply an ideal, never to be achieved and certainly never to be sustained. In order for humans to gain the conscious feeling of happiness, we are required to change and evolve in order to adapt; after all, our time on this planet is limited making everything we know temporary. The author Alex Garland explores and portrays this idea in his novel The Beach. I urge you to not immediately associate this book with the film version starring Leonardo DiCaprio; trust me, the two are very different.

Garland depicts a morally lost British traveller, Richard, exploring the stereotypical western backpacker’s version of Thailand. Upon meeting deranged Scot, Richard learns of an Eden-like paradise beach submerged within a Thai-national park, unknown to the world. Upon eventual discovery of this beach, Richard learns of a perfect self-sufficient community and a new way of life. But the flaws in humanity prevent this perfection from being sustained and soon bliss turns bitter with the fragility of morality stands in the balance.

Garland manages to successfully portray how the world we live in constantly evolves and changes around us and whether or not we allow ourselves to change with it can sometimes be a matter of life or death. The beginning of the book becomes any future traveller’s ideal depiction of East Asia. With brutal honesty, Garland manages to charm the reader into excitement and curiosity, wondering what spectacles and horrors Richard will next encounter. As the book progresses, we begin to believe in the possibility of a perfectly untouched land where regulations and laws only stretch as far as your morals. However, with close resemblance to the William Golding novel Lord of the Flies, it is obvious that this perfection is temporary; soon enough, with the arrival of new travellers, the community in which Richard has become accustomed begins to fall apart. Through shark attacks and neighbouring drug lords, the threat of danger becomes imminent and begins to test the camp’s unity.

Interestingly, Garland spends a long time developing the image of perfection of the camp, spending time on detail of the dispositions and relationships within it. This cleverly contrasts to the quick pace of the downfalls present in the last few chapters. Hopelessness and disappointment begin to set in as Garland introduces fault after fault until eventually this idyllic community completely breaks apart.

The last chapter provides horror for the reader and, without giving too much away, insanity comes to mind as the remaining campers turn on each other in a shocking and brutal way. Soon a group of people that depended on each other so heavily, very easily becomes every man for themselves.

Novelists such as Nick Hornbury described The Beach as ‘Lord of the Flies for Generation X’ and it certainly doesn’t disappoint, giving an entirely new perspective on the world we live in.