What do you get if you take two dozen listless young adults, put them on a remote Thai island with the ability to sustain themselves and give them free access to a nearby drug farm? Why, The Beach, of course.

A perfect exercise in ‘why isolated breakaway societies don’t work’, Alex Garland’s 1996 debut novel is like a modernised Lord of the Flies with quite a lot more cannabis. When Richard, a young backpacker with a penchant for Vietnam War films, witnesses ‘Daffy’, a fellow traveller, commit suicide in a Bangkok hostel, he embarks on a quest to find the novel’s eponymous location, a legendary community of peace and understanding which he believes to be paradise on earth. But Richard’s arrival, along with that of a young French couple, upsets the careful equilibrium between the different factions which exist there, and marks the beginning of the end for The Beach and the start of its descent into total chaos. Despite Richard’s best attempts to mend the rift, disease, shark attacks, a small civil war and several deadly altercations with the guards of the drug farm drastically reduce morale and the numbers of the community. The novel ends with Richard and the other survivors fleeing the island and returning to their mundane, ordinary lives, rarely to speak of The Beach ever again.

The Beach is a magnificent creation, if only for its use of absurd symbolism and Garland’s suberb narrative voice in the form of Richard. A conversational style is kept up throughout the novel (interspersed liberally with hilariously innovative expletives) and Richard is a cogent, if not permanently lucid, storyteller. Combine this with a range of hallucinations and dreams featuring an odd combination of two themes: scenes cannibalised from war-films featuring a great deal of military jargon, and increasingly horrifying and bloody visions of Daffy, who despite being only an apparition manages to become the novel’s most humorous and vivid character.

The novel was also adapted into a largely unsuccessful film (which shared much of its predecessor’s blood and gore) in 2000. It was directed by Danny Boyle and starred Leonardo DiCaprio (who was nominated for the Razzie Award for Worst Actor for his work in the film) as Richard.