On the Glorious Alex Garland

Like many readers of a certain disposition, I love Alex Garland. The fact that he is responsible for a stunningly high percentage of my nightmares does not make me love him less, but more.

I have just re-read The Beach. I vividly remember the first time I read it, as a skinny teenager who hung out in strip malls. I couldn’t relate to the book at all, not then, not now. I am neither a traveller nor an adventurer. I am, on most days of the year, a tourist.

It is this inability to relate that allowed me to initially keep the narrative at an arm’s length. I marveled at Richard’s fucked-up antics from a safe distance (Richard being the protagonist, of course). But the story nipped at my subconscious. Richard nipped at me. I wouldn’t say I came to the point of hallucinating him, but I did find myself carrying on conversations with him in my head.

Set in Thailand, The Beach has been criticized by painting a flat, one-dimensional portrait of Thais. However, what people seem to have missed is the fact that this was a very deliberate move on Garland’s part. Many backpackers, even some folks whose intentions are basically pure, do not view “the natives” as fully human. This fundamental disconnect is one of the main reasons why the “paradise” discovered by Richard and his fellow traveling companions is, at its core, a rotten sham. Though then again, Garland is not preachy. The happy times spent times on the beach are as genuine as the horror that follows.

There are many parallels to be drawn between The Beach and Lord of the Flies, or The Beach and “Apocalypse Now.” But what this book makes me think about is actually Milton and “Paradise Lost.” I think about Adam and Eve getting chucked out on their asses from Eden, and I see The Beach as documenting that desperate, sweaty, human elbow-jostling to get back in.

I like the references that Garland makes in his work. People have slammed him for being “unoriginal,” but I rather see him as extremely perceptive, drawing on rich source material of cultural experience, tipping his hat to everyone from Graham Greene to George Romero, but doing it in such a way that a gesture is sublimated into a thing of startling beauty. There’s nothing sly or gimmicky about him when he does this.

“28 Days Later” wrecked me. Andrew O’Heir wrote something about how it was lame, and how “Day of the Dead” was so much better, and I could not have disagreed more. There are many similarities between the frenzied violence of that film and of Richard’s ruminations on danger and death. Richard is someone who craves horror, and “28 Days Later” says, “be careful what you wish for, Richard, my lad.”

I see that movie everywhere. There’s a particular shot of people running in the video clip for My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers,” and that’s a “28 Days Later” type of shot, and puts the song in a completely different perspective for me.

There was some guy who kicked my cab last night (I have no idea what that was about), and that strange outburst snapped me back to “28 Days Later,” and my palms began to sweat. If that’s not a testament to Garland’s creep-tastic genius, I don’t know what is.

7 thoughts on “On the Glorious Alex Garland

  1. I think Garland captured some sort of zeitgeist with THE BEACH, though not so much with his other efforts. To be in danger far from home, having to rely on one’s own resourcefulness and survival skills…those are compelling components for a story from ANY age, from THE ODYSSEY to, yes, THE BEACH. Like revenge, some myths are timeless…

  2. I think The Tesseract is the cat’s pajamas, personally. Haven’t read Coma yet.

    I think it’s interesting that you compare the Odyssey to the Beach. I wouldn’t have thought of that. I think some basic elements really do ring true, but Richard is doesn’t just survive… he also romanticizes violence and war (kinda like Homer, no?).

    And then when he’s confronted with reality, he’s like, “oh, shit.” The Beach is a book-gasm. 😉

  3. I love Garland (28 Days Later was pretty great too, even though the Garland-less sequel sucked). I’ve traveled a bit and met some backpackers that match up to characters in the book pretty well. This Cat and Girl seems choice at this point;

    But anyway, yeah, I don’t really get his critics. I mean, I accept that I like some writers that others don’t and can often see why someone might dislike one of my pet authors, but seriously, pretty much every critique I’ve read has caused me to think “Umm, did you actually (read the book/watch the movie)?”

  4. Spare it. the reason why you like Alex Garland (like the reason you like anything, from what I’ve learned of you) is because you think he is hot.

  5. Well hey there, FA. Long time no troll.

    I have to admit, I originally deleted your comment… but since I know save all this stuff in a text file for posterity, I was able to change my mind.

    ‘Cause you are just so lovable and cute.

    So, tell me, do you have a problem with reading Chekhov? He was pretty hot…

  6. Never read The Beach but I did see the movie (I know, I know). I thought it did a pretty good job of capturing the flaws inherit in any attempt to create paradise. I don’t know if this scene was in the book but the way they dealt with the individual hurt in a shark attack summed it up for me.

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