Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Alex Garland - The Beach

What a horrifying book.

I picked it up because my brother had been recommending it to me for years. I'd resisted for a long time because our tastes aren't exactly similar. He likes abstract stuff, whereas I prefer straight narratives. But I was looking for a book to read on the flight back to Bangalore from Trivandrum. I picked this one up and flipped through it, and it seemed a racy enough read for a boring flight.

And boy, was it.

It starts innocuously enough. A traveler who has just landed in Thailand. A strange night-time conversation, a map stuck to the door, a mysterious suicide. Soon, we're on our way to a mysterious beach in the middle of a marine park. 'Eden' the beach is called. A Holy Grail for travelers, spoken about only in whispers, a place supposedly so beautiful and enchanting that people stay there for years.

They do discover the place, and it turns out to be everything they've been promised. A tiny hamlet, a flawless beach, a beautiful lagoon. The people staying there are travelers from all over the world. They've landed up on Eden because they're tired of the beaten path, of the masses that descend on every beautiful place. They live simply, eating fish and rice, smoking up at night, playing football on Sundays, just enjoying the beauty of the place.

Heaven? Yes. Until things start going wrong. The problem is that they are trying to escape the very thing they cannot escape - people. The hamlet looks may look idyllic from outside. But there are rifts within the group, tiny enmities, factions that form on the basis of perceived slights. Group politics dictates everything.

This book is about madness. It's about how fragile human minds are, how fucked up they can get. How seemingly small things can turn people's heads. How strangely and horrifically people behave when they are put under pressure.

The tempo builds up slowly. You hardly even realize it when things start to go off the rails. People's minds starting to behave strangely, the increasingly horrifying events, the nightmarish and surreal climax.

Racy, unputdownable, horrifying. Must-read.
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