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Port Mungo Hardcover – June 1, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041651
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041657
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,212,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The psychologically suspenseful story of Jack Rathbone, a "latter-day Gauguin" who flees his native England to pursue a career as a painter as well as a volatile relationship with artist Vera Savage, is narrated by his sister, Gin, whose obvious devotion skews her perspective. McGrath's sixth novel unfolds in a series of flashbacks, from Jack's childhood in England to Greenwich Village in the 1950s and, eventually, to the Honduran town of Port Mungo, where Jack develops a style he calls "tropicalism" or, more sinisterly, "malarial." The birth of daughter Peg threatens the marriage, and her mysterious death, at 16, dooms it; Jack moves in with his sister in New York. Ostensibly, the search for the truth behind Peg's death propels the narrative, but the mix of flashbacks and present action is confusing, and Gin's role feels trumped up. The book becomes even more baroque when Jack's second daughter, raised in England, moves to New York and agrees to let her father paint her, in the nude. It's a provocative conceit, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts. Despite McGrath's intelligent, lyrical prose, the story lacks the urgency of his earlier work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

McGrath's latest foray into macabre psychology examines one obsessive relationship through the lens of another. The novel is narrated by Gin Rathbone, who has lived her life in thrall to her younger brother, Jack, a famous painter now ailing and in her care. She tells the story of their eccentric, motherless childhood in England, a period that ends when Jack falls for a magnetic, promiscuous older artist named Vera Savage. Jack settles with Vera first in New York, then in the ramshackle Central American river town of the title. Gin's account of their extravagantly tempestuous life is full of adulation of him and hatred of Vera, whom she blames for his misfortunes. However, a series of shocking dénouements show us the extent of Gin's delusions about her brother and, in McGrath's virtuosic handling, make for a compelling piece of family Gothic.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Patrick McGrath finds genetic seeds for characters who border on the edge of maladaptation or evil or amorality. PORT MUNGO follows the line of his successful THE ASYLUM, DR. HAGGARD'S DISEASE, MARTHA PEAKE, and SPIDER, and despite the fact that he can be considered the progenitor for unlikable characters, he explores the psyches of these odd creatures with such skill that their darker sides often mesmerize us.

Jack Rathbone is a 17-year-old youth in the UK who aspires to be an artist and lives with his sister Gin (the narrator of the story) who is devoted to her younger brother in a near pathologic manner. Jack encounters Vera Savage, an exotic bohemian painter from Scotland who is well shown in the UK, and falls under the spell of his older chanteuse/alcoholic/free love personage. The two become entwined as sexual partners and Jack encourages Vera to move to New York where they will open an 'American Studio' in the wildness of a new country and Jack will learn painting (and other lessons) from Vera.

Once in Manhattan their painting is delayed by Vera's insatiable need to be the center of attention among new artsy acquaintances and her alcoholism triggers periods of absence. Feeling confined by New York the two decide to seek other locations to pursue their art, and after a brief stay in Havana, Cuba they find the perfect isolation in Port Mungo - a seedy, smarmy, decadent Maughamesque spot in the Gulf of Honduras. There they paint, drink, carouse, and while Jack develops a painting style of 'tropicalism', Vera begins to follow her sexual needs in adventures away from Port Mungo. Always reuniting after these trysts and fights, they eventually have a daughter Peg and some years later another daughter Anna.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Ever since his debut, British novelist Patrick McGrath has set for himself an unnervingly narrow limitation to follow. Each of his Gothic novels makes use of the old convention of the unreliable narrator: the person telling the story either is not acquainted with all the facts of the tale, or is, for his own reasons, deliberately falsifying them.
There is an obvious danger here. McGrath is in a sense writing the same book each time out. We all know, starting a new novel of his, what to expect. The narrator can't be trusted, so the solution to the mystery must be the opposite of what we're told.
Until now, McGrath has managed quite well to surprise his readers. Even in his last book, "Martha Peake," he was able to pull a rabbit out of his hat at the very last minute. Unfortunately, he has now published his first failure with "Port Mungo."
I won't go into detail about the plot--you can read a synopsis elsewhere. Suffice it to say that readers already familiar with McGrath's modus operandi will know very early on in "Port Mungo" what is really happening. It makes the rest of the book quite dull, following the characters to a foregone conclusion.
And that isn't all. The characters themselves are not very well fleshed out. We spend the entire novel in Gin's brain, as it were, but never learn much of anything about her. Another vastly important character, Gin and Jack's responsible elder brother, is basically ignored. And so on.
I could add other points. The main setting, Port Mungo itself, is never resolved into a real place, but remains an impressionistic smudge. Worse, McGrath's sense of dark humor is almost entirely absent, giving the novel an absurdly self-serious air.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jason Rosenfeld on July 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
McGrath's overbaked novel is long on intense psychological scrutiny and short on artistic authenticity, or character development. This is surprising, considering the author's reputation for fleshing out fictional figures. But much of this novel is plain fatuous, unsure and uninformed about the true lives of painters and the art they make. McGrath is unable to at all communicate much about the paintings that his various characters supposedly live through--a large error in such a work in which the comprehension of the players is insistently said to exist in their art. This gambit falls flat. For a book with such alluring locations as post-war London, Abstract Expressionist New York in the 1950s and 60s, and a far-flung tropical port, there is a disappointing and ultimately lazy lack of local color, atmosphere, and description, in favor of endless musings about characters, and their self-importance, characters who grow less likable and compelling page after page. Forget the plot. The ending is an attempt at the dramatic macabre but is plain ridiculous and unbelievable--it inspires giggles not chills. Worse--in one of the few actual artistic references the author cites Manet instead of Monet--a freshman art history error. Enough. Leave Port Mungo and its simmering simplicities alone. I took it to Bermuda on the recommendation of esteemed critics in London's Observer on Sunday, and ended up throwing it out the window. Should have stuck with Iris Murdoch...
Jason Rosenfeld
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By lazza on December 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
Patrick McGrath is known for his excellent prose, albeit the subject matter is often quite bizarre if not downright surreal. Unfortunately 'Port Mungo' demonstrates that even the best authors can produce mediocre novels. Oh, the author does produce some interesting characters, mostly artists, unusual locales (Port Mungo sounds like a tropical hell-hole), and ultimately there is some drama. But the narrative is so ... *average*. McGrath normally writes heavenly prose, the sort that demands to be read aloud. 'Port Mungo' is of much lesser quality, ... I don't understand this at all. And the author chose to be too cautious in unraveling the story. There is too much artistic mumbo-jumbo and not enough action to sustain the reader. Finally when there is drama it seems misplaced and forced.

Bottom line: a somewhat dull, borderline pretentious work by the normally reliable McGrath. Not recommended.
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