nthposition online magazine

Blinding light

by Philip Wiley

[ bookreviews ]

Paul Theroux is sounding a bit jaded these days, methinks. His new book Blinding Light is one long complaint about how awful it is to be a successful writer. This probably won't sit too well with bloggers, failed writers and other literary wannabes, but obviously being the author of a bestseller isn't all roses. The money's nice, of course, and having your own line of trendy travel accessories. There's even a TV reality show based on the book, but - horror of horrors - it does isolate you from ordinary mortals!

That's what the book's about really: losing touch. Theroux and/or his main character, a writer with one best-seller to his credit who can't get started on another one, doesn't seem to have much time for non-writers. Can't blame him really, I suppose, because he keeps meeting arseholes. You know the type - the Virgin Islands are crawling with the buggers. You might even be one. They wear astronaut's watches and fly around the world drinking kumiss in Mongolia, scuba diving in Tahiti, white water rafting down the bloody Orinoco, creating nothing, sneering at the locals.

"'Kenya's a fucking zoo,' Hack said. 'India's a total dump. China sucks big-time. Egypt's all ragheads. Japan's a parking lot. Want a sex tour? Go to Thailand. Want to get robbed by a Gypsy? Go to Italy.'"

"This isn't a country. It's a theme park... Disney should run it."

There's no getting away from them. Boring big-mouths on planes, cheeky cabbies, smartass tour guides. As a writer, people still interest him but he can't be bothered cutting through the bullshit anymore to find out what makes them tick - they'd probably just be boring anyway. So he just keeps making snotty observations instead.

He goes to Ecuador with his ex-girlfriend, a doctor. Why? Because they've paid for the trip and he doesn't want to waste the money. I know. It's a literary device, OK? They can't resist a bit of hanky-panky in hotel rooms in Quito and places for old times' sake, and he still can't figure out why she gives him a hard-on. They aren't in love or anything like that. Perhaps it's the mask he makes her wear or the way she winks her snatch at him.

All the time he's making notes, of course, the way writers do.

Ecuador is squalid and dangerous. The people he travels with are arrogant fools. Not to be suffered gladly. The only one he sort of respects is a Nazi. He gets more and more irritable. He takes a drug in an Indian village thinking it will help with his writing. He has visions. Suddenly he can see and understand everything. Trouble is it also makes him blind. Or does it? He sees everything and nothing. He goes back to his reclusive estate on Martha's Vineyard. Meets President Clinton. Darkness and light, light and darkness, blow jobs, masks and blindfolds. It gets a bit tedious after a while. I suppose on a philosophical level it's all very profound. Theroux does make some interesting observations about life, some of the dialogue is alright and there's too much sex in it. Otherwise it's a real flop. Good start, messy finish. I had trouble getting through it. Or maybe I'm just getting hard to please. Maybe I'll shut up. Read it for yourself. Who knows, you might like it.