Published in 1996, The Beach was written by a then 26-year-old Alex Garland and was a hit with both readers and critics. The story revolves around Richard, a young British backpacker (DON’T call him a tourist) freshly arrived in Bangkok and hungry for adventure.
For Richard, as for many, travel is both a compulsion and a tonic:
Escape through travel works. Almost from the moment I boarded my flight, life in England became meaningless. Seat-belt signs lit up, problems switched off.Alex Garland, The Beach
Richard is only in Bangkok for a short time when he is told about The Beach, a secret island paradise where a small group of international travellers have started a Utopian community.
Following a grisly tragedy, Richard “finds” a hand-drawn map to the island. He shares it with a few other travellers at his Bangkok hostel before setting off with a French couple to locate it.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS (read at your own risk):
Later in the book, the trio are living on the island. After a rocky start, the place really does seem to be paradise and at first Richard enjoys the relaxed pace, the other travellers and the easy access to drugs. But it can’t last.
Nothing, after all, is perfect. Richard’s mind least of all. This is a character who values danger and pain and who actively seeks out risk, so a tranquil island paradise was never going to satisfy him for long. The longer he remains on the island the more he starts to resent the very things that make it unique. He doesn’t want to leave but he needs more. A shake-up. Explosions. Drama.
Some people, it seems, can be dissatisfied anywhere. Even Utopia.
For Richard, travel may be an escape, but what he doesn’t realise is that no matter where you go, you’re always stuck with yourself.
Or as Socrates more eloquently put it –
How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you?Socrates
Or maybe Richard’s problem is that –
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…John Milton, Paradise Lost