October 06, 2006

Blinding Light by Paul Theroux

One book I’ve found really enjoyable lately is Paul Theroux’s recent novel Blinding Light. We follow the story of writer Slade Steadman, a middle-aged one-hit wonder of a writer, who lives comfortably form the profits of his book, Trespassing (together with money from the spin-off TV series and merchandise), but who has a 20 year bout of writer’s block.

He takes a trip to Ecuador in an attempt to get over this writer’s block, and also as a kind of breaking up trip with his partner, a doctor called Ava. While on the trip to the depths of the rainforest, he discovers a potent drug, a form of datura (or Jimson’s weed) that leaves him temporarily blind, but also gives him a kind of second sight. He manages to secure himself a supply of the drug and smuggle it though customs.

On his return to the US, under the influence of the datura, he dictates episodes from his sexual past to Ava, a willing participant in the experiment, who faithfully transcribes them. The evenings, when the effects of the drug have worn off, are devoted to re-enactments of what has been described that day. Slowly but surely, Steadman’s second book is taking shape, and also the various confessions/fantasies become more daring – almost an inner form of trespassing.

The last section of the book deals with the consequences of his reappearance in the public eye following the publication of his second book.

It’s no surprise to discover that Theroux himself has been on such a drug tour in Ecuador, as the description in this passage of the novel is very rich and lush, and Steadman’s observations of his fellow travellers is as sharp and sour as some of the passages used in Theroux’s own travel writing.

The only criticism I have of the book is that the description of the creative process starts off as very interesting, but perhaps drags on a little too long, and also the conclusion is not as powerful as it could be.

This, however, did not detract from what, for me, was an entertaining read.

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