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The Rum Diary: A Novel Paperback – Unabridged, November 1, 1999
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"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
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.
Top customer reviews
Definitely worth a read not only for fans of Hunter, but perhaps fans of those who influenced him too (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Falkner). As his style is certainly reminiscent of them at times.
Enjoyable and memorable with some of my favourites of all of his words and phrases:
"Like most others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles - a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other - that kept me going."
This guy has a true gift. I really adore his writing style.
After reading this book I ordered 5 other books by HST.
I am a fan.
And yet, the "Connecticut Yankee South of the Border" approach itself becomes immediately tiresome. The police are corrupt? Don't say it (a dozen times)! The ill-fated trip to St. Thomas seems to have been injected specifically to exploit the racial tensions of the era. And the midlife crisis aspect that many of the characters face seems a stab in the dark for Thompson at this point in his career and simply doesn't ring true.
Thompson himself admitted that the book was rejected by multiple publishers at the time and only published (without rewrite) almost 40 years later for monetary gain. The story might have benefited from the fresh perspective available as the 21st century approached and Thompson found himself on the other side of midlife. As it stands, and as with much of Thompson's work (I'm a fan; don't get me wrong) it says more about the writer than it does about the characters, setting or era.
Although the movie on the surface seems to be an act of a man getting drunk with his friends and no different than movies such as "The Hangover". There was something about the movie that made it different, and it was Thompson's own experience as the character that made it his own.
While the movie contained scenes and content different than the book itself, it was filled with beautiful scenery shots and film-ship.
But let's get back to the book itself, although it doesn't have that "Edge" of beauty such as the movie itself, it portrayed a much deeper sense of though and first-person point of view in a narrative form. Making the book more of a "Thinker" rather than a "viewer".
Although one line from the movie "Human beings are the only creatures on Earth who claim a God, and the only living thing that behaves like it hasn't got one. Does the world belong to no one but you?" - Paul Kemp ~ The Rum Diary. It struck me as an audience, like lightning. Though the book never mentioned this line nor any philosophical thoughts as Paul Kemp did in the movie, it was able to portray a sense of corruption of the innocence within the book with Paul Kemp lingering between helping Zimburger write a "inappropriate" column to gain tourism and Chenault (To have inferred) to be raped or sexually assaulted in both the book and the movie.
Overall, the sense of elegance and classic flavors mixed with modern action definitely hooked me to it!
Though the story line lingers here and there and gets quite confusing at points it still stands as a very well thought out structure.