A Novel Idea: The Beach by Alex Garland

We can all appreciate the allure of a completely undiscovered tropical island, a paradise that lies off the beaten track, away from the tourist throngs. But what if getting there was one of the most dangerous expeditions of your life? When you make it there, if you make it there, what would you do to protect it? To keep it as the special slice of paradise that made you so desperate to find it?

Alex Garland’s The Beach is a tale that addresses this very conundrum. The concept of a new start, a fair, free, paradise on Earth draws the young protagonist, Richard, into a dangerous quest to find a world that is better in every way to the one which he has grown so disillusioned. From the once upon a time paradise islands of Thailand’s Koh Pangan and Ko Samui, now ruined by tourism and hedonistic masses, Richard sets out on the trail of a secret, new paradise. He swims open oceans, treks through thick jungle, jumps a waterfall, and evades gun-toting marijuana farmers on his quest. He makes it, just, and finds an idyllic community of paradise seekers living in their very own perfect community.

Or so it seems. With every new arrival to the community, the risk of the secret spilling out becomes ever more urgent, and the community wages a desperate attempt to pre-serve their way of life. So desperate are they to protect their new world, they begin to turn on one another. Through a twisted story of secrets, lies, betrayal and greed, Richard discovers that paradise can come at a high price.

Richard learns that the concept of paradise may well be nothing more than a figment of our imaginations, as the petty squabbles and ever-eroding exclusivity mean paradise cannot be enjoyed if every moment is spent trying to keep it for yourself. We can believe we’ve found it, but the fear of losing it becomes an overwhelming absorption. Alex Garland begs the questions, what will we do for paradise? And what are we willing to do to live it, to keep it forever?

When reading The Beach we can’t help but think that paradise is not about where. It’s about how it makes us feel, what it leads us to discover about ourselves, about how we want to live our lives. How would you define paradise? What would it be worth to you?

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