Garland used novels Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness as well as various Vietnam war movies as inspiration for his novel, which sees protagonist Richard search for that most mythical of all things travel: a perfect, pristine beach, known to next to nobody. Richard is left a hand-drawn map to the beach by a traveller who commits suicide in a Bangkok flophouse; the story sees him and two French travellers hunt down and find the titular beach. In the process Garland seeks to explore the question of whether Western travellers effectively ruin the very thing they set out to find — you can pretty easily guess the answer, but the book is a page-turner while it teases the analysis out.
Having read the book while backpacking in Southeast Asia in 1997, it would be interesting to give it a re-read to see how it’s stood the test of time. Of course it’s hard to imagine a similar beach staying off the radar today, thanks to the internet and the power of social media. Are the backpackers of today looking for the same escape as those of 20 years ago anyway? Whether they are or not, the story remains a page-turner.
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