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The Rum Diary: A Novel Paperback – October 4, 2011

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Amazon.com Review

"Disgusting as he usually was," Hunter Thompson writes in this, his 1959 novel, "on rare occasions he showed flashes of a stagnant intelligence. But his brain was so rotted with drink and dissolute living that whenever he put it to work it behaved like an old engine that had gone haywire from being dipped in lard." Surprise! Thompson isn't writing about himself, but one of the other, older, aimlessly carousing newspapermen in Puerto Rico, a guy called Moberg whose chief achievement is the ability to find his car after a night's drinking because it stinks so much. (I can smell it for blocks, he boasts.) The autobiographical hero, Paul Kemp, is 30, trapped in a dead-end job (Thompson wound up writing for a bowling magazine), and feeling as if his big-time writer dreams, soaked in Fitzgerald and Hemingway, are evaporating as rapidly as the rum in his fist.

In fact, Thompson was only 22 when he wrote The Rum Diary, but his fear of winding up like Moberg was well founded. What saved him was the fantastic conflagration of the 1960s, a fiery wind on which the reptilian wings of his prose style could catch and soar to the cackling heights of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Puerto Rico in 1959 doesn't have bad craziness enough to offer Thompson--just a routine drunken-reporter stomping by local cops and a riot over Kemp's friend's temptress girlfriend, a scantily imagined Smith College alumna who likes to strip nude on beaches and in nightclubs to taunt men.

Thompson's prose style only intermittently takes tentative flight--compare the stomping scenes in this book with his breakthrough, Hell's Angels--but it's interesting to see him so nakedly reveal his sensitive innards, before the celebrated clownish carapace grew in. It's also interesting to see how he improved this full version of the novel from the more raw (and racist) excerpts found in the 1990 collection Songs of the Doomed (available on audiocassette, partly narrated by Thompson). --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

When the celebrated iconoclast was a feisty kid working for an English-language newspaper in San Juan 40 years ago, he wrote, and then put aside, a novel, which is here resurrected. It is very much a young man's book, clearly based on Thompson's own situation and some of the peopleAmostly drunks and layaboutsAwho gravitated to a loosely supervised journalistic stint in the tropics. An introduction sets the scene, and the novel that follows is almost equally documentary in tone: young Kemp comes aboard at the News, gets to know its perpetually embattled proprietor and some of his feckless staff. He observes the island, as the invasion of American tourists and values is just beginning to change its lazy, sun-struck character. He gets involved in a drunken fight with the police, is thrown in jail, bailed out and goes in for a little shame-faced PR writing. He comes between a wild colleague and the equally unbuttoned young Connecticut girl he has brought out to visit him, and the end is a youth's easy-won nostalgia for a silly, drunken time. As he always has done, Thompson lays on the drinking and general hell-raising very thick (the amount of rum consumed would dry up a distillery) and indulges flashes of bad temper toward commercialism while always showing a willingness to do whatever it takes to make a buck. His style is less hallucinatory and exclamatory than it later became, but the groundwork is there. The best parts of the book are its occasional, almost grudging, acknowledgments of natural beauty; the people in it are no more than props. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Media Tie-In edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451659717
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451659719
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (318 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Hunter S. Thompson's books include Fear and Loathing in America, Screwjack, Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Proud Highway, Better Than Sex, The Rum Diary, and Kingdom of Fear. He was contributor to various national and international publications, including a weekly sports column for ESPN Online. Thompson died February 2005.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Jon Konrath on August 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is the "lost novel" by Hunter S. Thompson, a book that he started writing in 1959 to make a quick buck. He struggled all through the sixties to get this thing rewritten and published, but because of its quality and Thompson's legendary shakedowns with agents, publishers, and contracts, it died on the vine - until a few years ago. This quasi-fictional account of a New York reporter drifting into a job at the San Juan Daily News is somewhat based on Thompson's experience on the Carribean island in the late 1950. Trying to put Puerto Rico on the literary map like Hemingway did for Paris, he spells out a story of corruption, boredom, and alcohol in a more simple San Juan, before the big booms of the travel booms and technology of the sixties. Paul Kemp, the fictional narrator, describes the coworkers, women, natives, and insane government, riddled with syndicates and kickbacks. The writing here isn't like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - it's more of the Orwell/Mailer/Miller genre, and does a good job of painting memorable scenes of the insanity, camaraderie, poverty, and drunkenness on top of the tropical backdrop. It's not bad stuff, and I wonder if it recently went through heavy rewrites, or if there just wasn't a market for it back in the sixties. Either way, it's a light, fast read at just over 200 pages, and made me wonder if Thompson's other unpublished work would be as satisfying in a trade hardcover. Maybe someday?
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By D. Colley on December 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
Thompson's thinly veiled self-acknowledged portrayal of a journalist - Paul Kemp - who leaves New York to go working for a folding newspaper, the San Juan Daily News - is a largely ignored piece of work. This is largely due to its pre-gonzo style that will alienate most of the fans who have been seduced by his later works - most notably Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

However, there was much more to Thompson's methodical writing than 'gonzo' (see his earlier letters for example). Sure, his influences do include Hemingway, and this is most notable in The Rum Diary, but Thompson manages to capture a boozy, sleazy, sun-soaked world full of typical Thompson creatures.

The Rum Diary was actually written in the late 50s - early 60s, however it remained unpublished until the later years when Thompson's name was enough to give it a seal of quality. This is not to say that this novel is just a cash in for Thompson. Reading his letters at the time, he sweated blood to try and get this piece of work published, despite rewriting it many, many times. Also, judging by his letters, he was immensley proud of this book and - as a desperate poverty striken writer without much work - he became disillusioned with publishers and the writing world in general on its lack of success.

The novel simmers along at a subtle pace leading to an edgy - and quite shocking - climax at a street festival. Early characteristics of Thompson's style do break through - most notably the drunken madness and brawls that the antagonist gets involved in.

"When the sun got hot enough it burned away all the illusions and I saw the place as it was - cheap, sullen, and garish - nothing good was going to happen here."
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37 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Ben Duchek on July 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I came to the good old Doctor probably like the good old Doctor comes into life after a drunken night living on his fortified compound near Puerto Rico(book jacket) -- not knowing what to expect.
But I'm glad I crashed my first Thompson novel -- it's a wicked cool party. Some of the passages are just like wine on a Sunday afternoon - "All manner of Men came to work for the News: everything from wild young Turks who wanted to rip the world in half and start all over again-to tired, beer- bellied old hacks who wanted nothing more than to live out their days in peace before a bunch of lunactics ripped the world in half."
The book continues on like this for a quick 204 pages, with Thompson occasionally digging up such gems of lines. It's a wild, brash adventure that doesn't seem dated, and stirs up all the feelings about what fiction should be.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Daulton Dickey on March 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
To be honest, this book isn't nearly as entertaining as HST's other works. The first chapter starts off good with a humorous account of the main character's run in with a fellow airline passenger. Right away I knew that this was going to be classic Hunter S. Thompson. Sadly, that was the first and last time I chuckled while reading this book. True, he was only twenty-two when he wrote this, but it seems that he was either too drunk or too afraid to take any chances with the story. The characters are two-dimensional at best. Paul Kemp, the man whose eyes we peer through for the duration of the novel, is the least developed character. The novel flows at a languid pace and often appears to be monotonous in tone. Nonetheless it is an engaging read that should appeal to a larger audience than his other books. To me the ironic thing is, had he not been consumed by alcohol and narcotics, he could have gone on to be one of the greats. As it stands he is a legendary counter-culture journalist who is more famous for his addictions than his writings. Kids my age--in their early to mid twenties--read HST because of the drug laden content; because it's "cool". Which is all the wrong reasons to read. I fell in love with HST's works when I was a teenager--and when I subscribed to the lifestlye that he describes--and although I appreciate his work now, his prose is absolutely remarkable, I can't help to wonder what could have been. As I said it's a respectable first novel, one that could entertain his fans as well as fans of Hemingway or Kerouac, but it's no masterpiece. I would recommend this novel so one could further understand how a talented writer ends up where he is. Or if you're just looking for a solid read that isn't knee deep in artistic integrity or bourgeois sentamentality, then pick this up today.
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