Rating: 3.5 Stars ★★★☆☆
The first I heard of the beach was in Bangkok, on the Khao San Road.
The Khao San Road, Bangkok – first stop for the hordes of rootless young Westerners traveling in Southeast Asia. On Richard’s first night there, a fellow traveler slashes his wrists, bequeathing to Richard a meticulously drawn map to “the Beach.”
The Beach, as Richard comes to learn, is a subject of legend among the young travelers in Asia: a lagoon hidden from the sea, with white sand and coral gardens, freshwater falls surrounded by jungle, plants untouched for thousands of years. There, it is rumored, a carefully selected international few have settled into a communal Eden.
Richard sets off with a young French couple to an island hidden away in an archipelago forbidden to tourists. They discover the Beach, and it is as beautiful as it is reputed to be. Yet over time it becomes clear that Beach culture, as Richard calls it, has troubling, even deadly undercurrents.
Richard, freshly arrived in Thailand, is, like all backpackers, looking for the next secret spot. The place to be before all the other backpackers arrive and all the tourists after them. So when a crazy guy gives him a map to a secret beach and then kills himself, he is set on finding the place.
When he gets there, he finds paradise: a beautiful beach looking out over a gorgeous lagoon and a group of people living there in secret.
Think about a lagoon, hidden from the sea and passing boats by a high, curving wall of rock. Then imagine white sands and coral gardens never damaged by dynamite fishing or trawling nets. Freshwater falls scatter the island, surrounded by jungle – not the forests of inland Thailand, but jungle. Canopies three levels deep, plants untouched for a thousand years, strangely coloured birds and monkeys in the trees.
On the white sands, fishing in the coral gardens, a select community of travellers pass the months. They leave if they want to, they return, the beach never changes.
Everything seems great. But life on the beach soon turns out to have a darker undercurrent.
I absolutely loved the descriptions in this book. The scenery really came to life. The book was fast-paced and quick to read. The more you got to know Richard, the harder it was to know if you could believe him. Or if you even liked him. The same was true for the others on the island. It made for a oppressive atmosphere.
Part adventure novel, part creepy thriller set on a beautiful beach.