Tony Parsons recommends 'The Beach' by Alex Garland
"We all want to travel but none of us want to be tourists – we crave the authentic experience, to experience the true essence of a country, to touch the eternally just-out-of-reach real thing. No novel ever captured this impulse better than The Beach by Alex Garland.
Richard, a young traveller adrift in backpack Bangkok, is given a map to a secret beach community and sets off to find it in the company of a young French couple. After a brief dip in shark-infested waters and a leap from a waterfall, they locate Eden and it turns into a tropical hell – a fate that has inevitably seen The Beach compared to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. They are both terrific adventure stories, and both end with lots of blood on that perfect white sand. Where they part is that the schoolboys in Lord of the Flies have their island exile imposed upon them by a plane crash and a nuclear war. Richard, and the secret community in The Beach, yearn for exile from civilization, and actively seek it out – as so many of us do.
First published in 1996, The Beach still seems shockingly modern because it was written in and for a world that suspected all the secret beaches had already been found, and concreted over, and ruined with jet skis and banana boats. Lord of the Flies seems old-fashioned - Golding’s nuclear nightmare recedes into the mists of time. But, deep down in our bones, we all still feel like Richard in The Beach.
There are very few Thai characters in The Beach – a gaggle of gun-toting drug-growers, and their cruel Mr Big. And yet that somehow seems right – the travellers in The Beach adore Thailand – the lonesome glamour of Ko Phi-Phi (lonesome no more after Leonardo di Caprio appeared in the film of the book), the limestone majesty of Phang-Nga (which always seemed to me to be the true model for The Beach) and the safe sleaze of old Bangkok. But they don’t know it. They never even come close to knowing it. And perhaps that is the ultimate message of Alex Garland’s big, beautiful, heart-pumping novel.
We tramp around the world, doing our very best to be travellers not tourists. And we always forget that this place existed before we touched down, and it will be around long after we have flown home."
About the book
The Beach was published in 1996 and the novel quickly became a cult classic, later made into a film by Danny Boyle, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The novel describes the adventures of a young English backpacker in Thailand in search of a legendary, idyllic beach.
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About Tony Parsons
Tony Parsons left school at 16 and after some time in a gin factory he began his writing career on New Musical Express. He is a best-selling novelist and an award-winning journalist. His novel Man and Boy won the Book of the Year Prize and was translated into 41 languages, most recently Vietnamese. He currently writes a weekly column for The Daily Mirror and a monthly column for GQ. He lives in London.
Tony Parsons’ new novel Catching The Sun is set in Phuket, Thailand and is published by HarperCollins on 24th May 2012.