And then you fry

The Beach

There is no such place as off the beaten track. On a fruitless search for the virgin island, Richard has come to this conclusion. But in a chance meeting the soon-to-be suicide "Daffy" Duck hints at the perennial rumour of the unspoilt, idyllic paradise. Unlike most hapless backpackers Duck leaves Richard a map. A bond is forged between Richard and two French companions, who all sneak away to the government-protected island and The Beach, but not before Richard passes the map onto two American tourists, Zeph and Sammy, smarter than they look.

Our three heroes are accepted by The Beach's community, and find themselves in a resort ringed by sharks and drug dealers: apparently safe in their eden, but with flaming swords turning every which way at the borders. But division and danger inevitably seep in, precipitated by the disastrous attempts of Zeph and Sammy to infiltrate this paradise.

Garland plays games with lost innocence that make the scandal surrounding the film ironic and fitting: DiCaprio is implicit in the very despoiling that his alter ego has been trying to escape, and ultimately is taken over by and becomes accomplice to. At the same time unattainables and unspeakables hover in the air like demons on the shoulders of the wannabe prelapsarians, and the climax of the novel is Conradian: dark and inescapable, pleasurable tourism with its back turned.

The novel has its faults, not least the author's love of short chapters. Each has its own narrative arc, collapsing the book into a collection of short stories, hung off the same thread. The climax is not felt until the last few pages, therefore, and nor do Richard's gaming and war-film obsessions really manifest themselves except as plot devices that put a twist to the rest of the book each time they appear. In addition the bending of Richard's character is never dealt with convincingly---the last great leap he makes into "Vietnam" is confusing and inexplicably inexplicable.

Nonetheless the book is a chilling account of the quest to regain innocence, and the unstoppability of the outside world's influx: poisoning, destroying, but ultimately humanizing with a euthanasia that frees the inhabitants of The Beach.