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In our ever-shrinking world, where popular Western culture seems to have infected every nation on the planet, it is hard to find even a small niche of unspoiled land--forget searching for pristine islands or continents. This is the situation in Alex Garland's debut novel, The Beach. Human progress has reduced Eden to a secret little beach near Thailand. In the tradition of grand adventure novels, Richard, a rootless traveler rambling around Thailand on his way somewhere else, is given a hand-drawn map by a madman who calls himself Daffy Duck. He and two French travelers set out on a journey to find this paradise.

What makes this a truly satisfying novel is the number of levels on which it operates. On the surface it's a fast-paced adventure novel; at another level it explores why we search for these utopias, be they mysterious lost continents or small island communes. Garland weaves a gripping and thought-provoking narrative that suggests we are, in fact, such products of our Western culture that we cannot help but pollute and ultimately destroy the very sanctuary we seek .

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