Saturday, 7 July 2012

Book Review 14: The Beach


 
Book Title: The Beach
Author:Alex Garland
Genre:Adventure
Number of Pages: 436
Personal Rating:9/10
Reading Difficulty: Medium (3/5)

Book Summary 
(none on the back cover): 
After discovering a seemingly Edenic paradise on an island in a Thai national park, Richard soon finds that since civilized behavior tends to dissolve without external restraints, the utopia is hard to maintain. -- Nancy Pearl, goodreads.com

 
Personal Insights:

Basically, this story is about an English backpacker named Richard who 'unfortunately' came across a drunk/high Scottish man who claims that he has been to paradise. The next morning, Richard finds the drunk man dead and is left with a map that he assumes would lead him to the paradise that the man talked about. Wanting to experience 'real adventure,' Richard soon sets off with other backpackers to find this picturesque place only to find out that paradise is not what it seems. 

In a sense, this book is something like a mishmash of "Lord of the Flies," "Life of Pi," "Castaway," "Cannibal Holocaust" etc... Just think of a group of people living together in an island far away from the rest of the world and the dynamics that takes place among the group members when given shocking circumstances like rice run, food poisoning, shark attacks, Thai goons, etc. Yep, it's certainly entertaining so read on!
 
First of all, I'd just like to say that this book just gave me the overwhelming desire to go away and start traveling because it provided such concrete experiences! As a traveler and someone who grew up with the "Generation X" trend, I feel such a strong affinity for this book. In reading the first page alone, my attention was caught already. It talked about Thailand's Khao San Road (though in the book, he called it Ko Sanh Road). With the mere mention of this place, I suddenly became nostalgic of my stay at this same place 2 years ago and I became curious about the experiences of other travelers so I read on. But instead of learning about the character's insights about this place, I was exposed to a different turn of events. He gave a pretty precise idea of what you'd see and expect from Khao San Road, the backpacker's hub in Bangkok. But in the first chapter alone, a lot of things have happened already instead of just having the characters and setting introduced. In a way, it truly is a fast- paced novel, but it can still be relished in a leisurely way. The author has this innate ability to make the readers excited then calm the next moment; the pacing is simply superb. There's never a dull moment in reading this book!

 Apart from the connection I have forged with this book that was automatically made merely because of the setting, I am also VERY FOND of this novel because of the POSITIVE emphasis that the protagonist has given to The Philippines. Yes, you got it right. All throughout the novel, he kept on mentioning the Philippines in a VERY flattering way, which made me so happy that foreigners also have good memories of my homeland. I also did some research and there's this blog (by a foreigner nonetheless so it's not biased!) that mentioned that the 'inspiration' for this book is actually the SECRET BEACH found in El Nido, Palawan of the Philippines! This is not surprising because that place is simply magical and I can certainly attest to that based on my personal experience! Just floating around in that area would give you a lot of fantastic and inspiring ideas! Just look at the pictures below (from google images; wait for my blog about this place also!): 


 you have to swim through here (yep, underneath because there's a big rock on top) to reach the Secret Beach.

But as you can see, going through that scary dive is worth it if the place is this beautiful!

Anyway, enough gushing about the Philippines. Let's move on to the REAL part of my book review!

Reading this book gave me immense joy because it was VERY well- written. The different, separate events are seamlessly connected in one coherent narrative, which is an amazing feat to accomplish! One moment, the protagonist is talking about playing video games and the concept of KO (Knock Out) then at the next part, he is saying something about the adrenaline rush that he feels when he is spying on Thai goons that guard the 'dope fields.' It's just brilliant, how smooth the plot flows! This is a perfect example of a certified page-turner!
 
The characters were also very interesting and their development, thought provoking. The dynamics and interactions in the group was explained SOOO well that you can easily empathize with the characters. For instance, you'd realize that you DO NOT know the last names of the characters, even the protagonists', halfway through reading this book. This gives you the idea of how casual the relationship of the characters are with one another. The conflict of the characters are also well thought of: Bugs vs. Richard concerning cockiness; Etienne vs. Keaty over indifference. These are things that you would not see immediately as 'conflicts' because they are merely implied, but if you study the happenings in the book more closely, you'd understand it more and will be treated to some philosophical thoughts. Here's an example: Which act is more humane? To act like Keaty and pretend that nothing is wrong so as to protect "The Beach" or be more like Etienne and risk the privacy of "The Beach" in order to save a dying man?

I also love the idea that the characters' personality are so flawed and life-like. Let's take Richard as an example. He is the protagonist of the story. You'd think that he'd be perfect and morally upright, which is usually the stereotype for all protagonists. Yet, there was a certain part in the book where he mentioned that after doing something as mundane as smoking, he suddenly turned into someone that he himself cannot recognize. He became a risk-taker when he was a conventional type of guy before. There were also moments where he just acted in such a cold manner, which even scared him! I also love the haunting quality that some characters possess like Jed. I can't forget the part in the book where Jed was thinking that he was still alive yet, people have forgotten about him and have abandoned him in a tent together with a dying man... His accusing yet resigned disposition just made me feel so sorry for him when he said, "Richard, I'm still here but they do not come and visit me!" In sum, the character development is just so rich and complex that you just sort of anticipate what happens next and how they would act given a particular problem!

The ending is shocking to say the least; it was something like a scene form the movie "Cannibal Holocaust" or similar to the ending of Hari Kunzru's "The Impressionist." What I like about it though is that there is a sense of closure unlike other book endings that leave you wanting for more or something... As for the movie vs. book debate, I'd have to say that reading the book is still much better than watching the movie. Why? Because there are lots of scenes that the movie was not able to include, which I think is important for the plot. The movie did not even INCLUDE Jed, who is a very important character considering that he is the one who does the espionage tasks for the group AND, he is the best friend of Richard... Also, the character of Richard in the book is less of a jerk than the one in the movie (though I have to admit that I did enjoy watching Leonardo DiCaprio!) But of course, you also MUST see the movie if you want to see the place (though I don't agree with what the producers did in Thailand while shooting there) and the soundtrack is simply awesome!!!

Would I recommend this book? 100% yes! For people who love traveling, adventure, romance and action, this is a perfect page- turner. However, I would not recommend this book to kids/teens/people who are just sensitive because it has mentions of drugs, sex, cursing, murder, etc so be careful! You have been warned!  

Favorite Excerpts:
I do a lot of traveling alone, so sometimes I get starved of conversation and company. It makes me alert to body language, because even if I'm feeling a bit lonely I don't want to inflict myself on a person who isn't interested.
I learned an interesting thing about jellyfish from a Filipino guy... He taught me that if you pick up a jellyfish with the palm of your hand, you don't get hurt-- although then you have to be careful to scrub your hands, because if you rubbed your eyes or scratched your back, the poison would lift off and sting like mad. 
I don't like dealing with money transactions in poor countries. I get confused between feeling that I shouldn't haggle with poverty and hating getting ripped off.  

There's an infinite amount of chances for something to happen, then eventually it will happen-- no matter how small the likelihood... That means somewhere in space there's another planet that, by an incredible series of coincidences, developed exactly the same way as ours. 

You find plastic pitchers all around provincial Asia and their purpose has confused me for years. I refuse to believe that Asians wipe themselves with their hands-- it's a ridiculous idea... Of the mysteries of the Orient, this should be easiest to unravel, but the subject matter appears to be veiled in a conspiracy of silence. (then Richard starts telling a story about his Manilan friend who felt ashamed that he used toilet paper instead of the plastic pitcher, which the Filipino locals find unacceptably disgusting.)

In an all- blue world, color doesn't exist.. If something seems strange, you question it, but if the outside world is too distant to use as a comparison, then nothing seems strange.

In the traveler's ten commandments, that's (assimilating one's self) commandment number one. You don't march into Hindu temples and start saying, "Why are you worshiping a cow?" You look around, take on board, adjust, accept. 

Give, and gifts will be given to you, for whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt to you in return. -- Keaty's favorite bible quote

Collecting memories, or experiences, was my primary goal when I first started traveling. I went about it in the same way as a stamp collector goes about collecting stamps, carrying around with me a mental list of all the things I had yet to see or do.

I don't keep a travel diary. I did keep a travel diary once, and it was a big mistake. All I remembered of that trip is what I bothered to write down. For exactly the same reason, I don't travel with a camera. Photographs never seem very evocative... If only there was a camera that captured smell. Smells are far more vivid than images. 

Travel conversation was a pretty good substitute for conversation about home. You could tell plenty about someone from the places they'd chosen to visit, and which of those places were their favorites... I knew my affection for the Philippines was equally as telling. a democracy on paper, apparently well- ordered, regularly subverted by irrational chaos. A place where I'd felt instantly at home. 

1 comment:

  1. Great review! Happy you to have swam through wonderful magestic magical el Nido (soup) Happy Birthday soooooon Jazelle :)

    ReplyDelete