Less than two years after the publication of Alex Garland's first novel, The Beach, one of cinema's most fashionable young directors (Danny Boyle) and its most adored male star (Leonardo Di Caprio) are about to make a film version of it, a remarkable achievement for an author of 28, but in other ways an inevitable one. Few novels are so influenced by film as this one, in its subject-matter, its narrative technique and the preoccupations of its characters. From the very beginning, The Beach announces itself as a book about cliché and fantasy, about the pleasures of life projected onto a mental cinema screen. This is made clear in a single page of italicised text which would (and perhaps will) work, virtually without alteration, as the pre-credit sequence in a film. It is delirious and intoxicated, a crescendo of filmic voices, beginning with a Saigon whore ('All day, all night, me love you long time'), switching to a scene of jungle combat ('this is Alpha patrol and we are taking fire'), and climaxing with a compendium of Vietnam movie moments: 'Dropping acid on the Mekong Delta, smoking grass through a rifle barrel, flying on a helicopter with opera blasting out of loudspeakers, tracer-fire and paddy-field scenery, the smell of napalm in the morning.'
LRB 15 October 1998 | PDF Download