On this day twenty years ago, a then unknown Alex Garland released his debut novel, The Beach. Inspired by such classics as Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies, the book set the bar for first time novelists. For his initial release, Garland achieved critical and commercial success that could elude others for lifetimes. If you have a look at other Penguin paperbacks, few of them could be as light and cruisy a read as The Beach. In fact, the Washington Post said it best, seeing it as ‘a book that moves with the kind of speed and grace many older writers can only day-dream about.’
Write about what you know
Other people may be more acquainted with the film adaptation, with all the breathtaking shots of Maya Bay near Phuket. There is even a TV series in the works. For our purposes here, we will focus on the book. Some of you may be wondering how Garland could mould such a creative setting for his novel. Simple: he mostly stuck with what he knew. As someone who went backpacking through Southeast Asia, he was well aware of the culture, the hotspots, and the people. His knowledge of the area, complemented by reading Heart, Flies and an ‘anonymous convict’s memoir’, made everything easier. He did his research on what he didn’t know. You must not forget though that he had to be really good, as this was twenty years ago. His only bet was through traditional publishing, so his work had to be usable or print ready, free of any typos, malapropism, etc.
You might be wondering about the title of this post. There are two reasons behind this. Firstly, Daffy was a character in the novel. He is the guy who first entrances Richard with the beach paradise. Although he met a rather sad fate, Richard obsessed about him later in the book, thinking dead Daffy was pulling the strings onshore. The Caribbean guy even told him, you barely know the man. Hoy! are you with us, Richard? Most of us would relate to sideshow Daffy. There is always someone beyond reach, a face in the crowd, a shadow from your past, that impels you to act. Over the years, I’ve met a few of them myself. I hope though that I won’t go chasing the ghost of Mr. Duck.
Chasing paradise; this is related to the second reason: Alex Garland, the flag bearer. He may have focused on screen writing, even making his directorial debut these days. However, his book has been hailed as Lord of the Flies for Generation X. What stands out to me though is his maturity, his voice when he was at such a young age. I admire those kind of writers: from Bret Ellis to the late David Wallace, the postmodern wit and self referentiality oozing in the pages. While some of us may not be able to replicate Garland’s success, we could find solace in dissecting the lasting imprint of his work. After all, he is the apotheosis of everything nice about 90s fiction