The Richmond Review

book review   


      home : book reviews : The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus

Book cover

The Beach
Alex Garland

The Beach
Alex Garland
London 1997

Merchandise Links

UK Edition:

US Edition:

Richard, the narrator and central character of this impressive first novel, is on a ‘year-out’, travelling the well-worn year-out trails of South East Asia when we meet him in a Bangkok hotel. His neighbour in the hotel Daffy is apparently deranged and, sure enough, tops himself – but leaves directions to the remote beach of the title for Richard to find. Intrigued by the prospect of going somewhere still off the beaten track, Richard and his new-found French chums Etienne and Francoise manage to find the beach where they discover a new-ageish community of seasoned travellers living off the land and smoking lots of dope from a nearby plantation. The community is already a hotbed of interpersonal tension and the new arrivals find themselves adding to it as the camp splits increasingly into the old guard against the new. And none of this is helped by the fact that Richard himself has given away the location of the island to some other travellers. As the threat of encroachment from the outside world looms, Richard becomes increasingly disturbed by fantasies of the Vietnam War and a series of violent episodes raises the tension to breaking point.

This is a novel which promises a great deal, but never quite delivers in the end. The individual relationships – between Richard and the beautiful Francoise, between the various members of the community – and the sense of spiralling insanity on Richard’s part, are sketched out brilliantly, giving the best parts of the novel an edge of real menace and drawing the reader completely, if temporarily, into the hermetic world the novel creates and occupies. But it’s as if Garland, when it comes to it, is afraid to stick the boot in where needed, as if he loves some of his characters rather more than they deserve. The potentially explosive mix never detonates with the power you would hope for. The author is only twenty-six, however, and that he needs to learn ruthlessness is explicable and, given the many true qualities this book has, almost forgivable.

Despite its flaws, The Beach is an engaging and interesting debut by an author who shows enormous promise. A little more ice in his heart and he’ll surely do great things.

Reviewed by Steven Kelly


Search The Richmond Review

Enter email address and Subscribe for updates

Product finder

Browse our network:

Visit The Big Bookshop


The Richmond Review

Copyright © 1995/2003 The Richmond Review