Magazine article The Spectator

In the Shadow of the Cinema

Magazine article The Spectator

In the Shadow of the Cinema

Article excerpt

THE BEACH by Alex Garland Viking 10.99, pp. 439

The Beach is a young man's novel. It is dominated by the character of the narrator, a young man (inseparable from the author) in search of solitude and danger in order to prove his manhood and understand himself. The context is contemporary: he is a backpacker, brought up on films and video games, searching for a part of Thailand unspoilt by tourism. `The beach' is an island, barred to visitors, where a small group of travellers has been living in secret. The narrator finds this beach and the novel tells of the community's struggles to maintain an Eden-like existence against Eastern drug-dealers, Western tourists and the wilderness which overpowers their sanity.

Obsessed by Vietnam war films, the narrator echoes phrases and whole scenes from Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon and even Forrest Gump (`me love you long time', `beaucoup bad shit', `the horror, the horror' etc). Their mission as idealistic travellers, like that of the American army in Vietnam, is ineluctably doomed, their very presence precipitates the destruction of what they are trying to protect. And, just as in the Vietnam war, the lawless drugs and desperate, senseless attempts to cling on to an unwinnable position drive them all mad.

The narrator himself resembles Charlie Sheen in Apocalypse Now; he even starts the novel in a hotel room in Bangkok, watching a fan rotate. He is fascinated by war, by fear, death and evil. He wants to be a Vietnam Vet, to see the worst extremities in life and to know the extremities of his own character. …

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