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Going Native

A.N. Wilson: Theroux’s portait of Naipaul

13 May 1999
Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship across Five Continents 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 376 pp., £17.99, December 1998, 0 241 14046 3
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... myself how such a book as this held my uninterrupted attention from first to last. I read it almost at a sitting. This was certainly not because of any previous obsession with either V.S. Naipaul or PaulTheroux. True, I regard Naipaul as one of the most enthralling writers of our time, even though the subjects he has covered – India, Africa, the putrefaction of the post-colonial world – are not ...
21 June 1984
The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 303 pp., £9.95, October 1983, 0 241 11086 6
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Doctor Slaughter 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 137 pp., £6.95, June 1984, 0 241 11255 9
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... reason, not a single hand was raised: whereupon Edna came over all sympathetic and chiding. ‘Now don’t you go writing any more of them, Melvyn, until we’ve all had time to catch up.’ Even PaulTheroux’s most devoted readers might by now be puffing a bit and asking for time to catch up. After a fertile beginning (five books in the first seven or so years), Theroux has doubled his striking ...
8 February 1996
The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 523 pp., £17.50, November 1995, 0 241 13504 4
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... Are you making a trip here to write a book?’ inquires the manager as PaulTheroux books into a hotel in Corsica, 136 pages into his latest travel narrative. ‘I don’t know,’ replies the author. ‘It was the truth,’ he adds as an aside. ‘It was too early in my ...
3 December 1981
The Mosquito Coast 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 392 pp., £7.95, October 1981, 0 241 10688 5
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... PaulTheroux is the author of The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express. He is better-known for these than for his nine novels. The novels are extraordinarily different from each other, and haven ...


Alexei Sayle: The 006 from Liverpool to London

19 January 1984
... the travel writer or travel-programme-maker. This is why the BBC is launching a series of films of tremendously boring trips, under the generic title Great Bus Journeys of the World. In this series PaulTheroux takes the London Transport Number 19 from his house down to the shops. Michael Frayn goes on a sight-seeing tour round Sheffield, and Michael Palin pays five quid to go to India on an old ...


Adam Mars-Jones: Paul Theroux

25 January 2018
Mother Land 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 509 pp., £20, November 2017, 978 0 241 14498 5
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... with, as a child. There is always a colossal success, with several houses in various countries to which no one is ever invited. There is a mysterious sister.’ That isn’t quite the set-up in PaulTheroux’s very disconcerting new novel, Mother Land. There are two success stories among the seven surviving Justus siblings (one died in infancy), neither colossal, and operating in adjacent areas of ...


Dick Wilson

27 October 1988
Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train through China 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 494 pp., £14.95, September 1988, 0 241 12547 2
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Discos and Democracy: China in the Throes of Reform 
by Orville Schell.
Pantheon, 384 pp., $19.95, June 1988, 9780394568294
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The Star Raft: China’s Encounter with Africa 
by Philip Snow.
Weidenfeld, 250 pp., £14.95, June 1988, 0 297 79081 1
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Ancestors: Nine Hundred Years in the Life of a Chinese Family 
by Frank Ching.
Harrap, 528 pp., £12.95, September 1988, 0 245 54675 8
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... Since much of Chinese life today bears no obvious relation to these images, we find it difficult to view it for what it is, instinctively reaching back instead to the things we think we know. As PaulTheroux remarks in Riding the Iron Rooster, ‘China exists so distinctly in people’s minds that it is hard to shake the fantasy loose and see the real China.’ Here, then, are four authors taking ...
20 November 1986
News from Nowhere 
by David Caute.
Hamish Hamilton, 403 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 241 11920 0
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by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 469 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 241 11948 0
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Ticket to Ride 
by Dennis Potter.
Faber, 202 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 9780571145232
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... the narrative is propelled by petty spites (against feminism, notably). But with all its faults, News from Nowhere seems to me to be that rarest of British things, engaged fiction. It is odd to find PaulTheroux writing an imaginary voyage. One’s first thought is that the author has run out of exotic countries to visit. Perhaps the Theroux passport has expired. Or perhaps he is simply tired of the ...


Paul Theroux: My Gaggle

20 June 2019
... I have spent​ the greater part of my life, more than fifty years, doing what I am doing now, writing in ink on a lined white pad, hoping not to be interrupted, alone and grateful for my solitude. Weekends are a waiting period, most uninvited talk (the phone, repairmen, Jehovah’s Witnesses) drives me to distraction; national holidays are an annoyance, vacations – when I am unable to avoid them ...
18 December 1986
Between the Woods and the Water 
by Patrick Leigh Fermor et al.
Murray, 248 pp., £13.95, October 1986, 0 7195 4264 2
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by Jonathan Raban.
Collins, 301 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 00 272119 8
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The Grand Tour 
by Hunter Davies.
Hamish Hamilton, 224 pp., £14.95, September 1986, 0 241 11907 3
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... I am assuming,’ Paul Fussell said in Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars (1980), ‘that travel is now impossible and that tourism is all we have left.’ To be a traveller, you have to move about alone ...


John Lanchester

24 May 1990
Chicago Loop 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 183 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 241 12949 4
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Lies of Silence 
by Brian Moore.
Bloomsbury, 194 pp., £12.99, April 1990, 0 7475 0610 8
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Amongst Women 
by John McGahern.
Faber, 184 pp., £12.99, May 1990, 0 571 14284 2
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The Condition of Ice 
by Christopher Burns.
Secker, 170 pp., £12.95, April 1990, 0 436 19989 0
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... four novelists here under review would be clustered towards the self-effacing side of the spectrum, with colleagues such as Burgess, Nabokov and Amis fils huddling together for warmth at the far end. PaulTheroux’s last novel, My Secret History, deployed a cool transparency of style to great effect in telling a story which appeared to be flagrantly autobiographical: that’s to say, its central ...

Dark Places

John Sutherland

18 November 1982
Wise Virgin 
by A.N. Wilson.
Secker, 186 pp., £7.50, October 1982, 0 436 57608 2
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The London Embassy 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 211 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 241 10872 1
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The frog who dared to croak 
by Richard Sennett.
Faber, 182 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 571 11989 1
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Vintage Stuff 
by Tom Sharpe.
Secker, 220 pp., £7.50, November 1982, 0 436 45810 1
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Rogue Justice 
by Geoffrey Household.
Joseph, 174 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 7181 2178 3
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... He is discovered to be a bewigged, homosexual con-man. It would be unbearable if Wilson’s narrative were to let us feel. But response is anaesthetically frozen by the Arctic objectivity of it all. PaulTheroux’s gaze is not quite as reptilian-cold as Wilson’s. But no one would call his eye genuinely benign. A collection of linked short stories, The London Embassy is a sequel to The Consul’s ...


Michael Irwin

4 December 1980
Collected Short Stories 
by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 303 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 09 143430 0
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World’s End 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 211 pp., £6.50, October 1980, 0 241 10447 5
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by Richard Stern.
Sidgwick, 151 pp., £5.95, November 1980, 0 283 98689 1
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Oxbridge Blues 
by Frederic Raphael.
Cape, 213 pp., £5.95, October 1980, 9780224018715
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The Fat Man in History 
by Peter Carey.
Faber, 186 pp., £4.95, October 1980, 0 571 11619 1
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... a great many of these Stories concern the adventures of people living or travelling abroad. One possible explanation for the prevalence of location work is provided, indirectly, by a character in Theroux’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’: He thought: All travellers are like aging women, now homely beauties; the strange land flirts, then jilts and makes a fool of the stranger. There is less risk, at home ...
9 June 1994
... My number is unlisted and I do not encourage the Central Exchange to connect me to international calls. I get enough correspondence from TV tycoons and assorted maniacs by mail.’ In a letter to PaulTheroux about the American edition of The Old Patagonian Express he referred to a scene where Theroux had said ‘every reply broke my heart’: ‘I don’t believe that one’s heart can break more ...


Michael Dibdin: Ulster Questions

21 April 1988
... it up. This leaves Belfast facing a deficit of good will and may be one reason why the city has never enjoyed a good press (although Joyce, oddly, claimed to like it). As hardened a traveller as PaulTheroux emerged wild-eyed and spluttering: ‘I knew at once that Belfast was an awful city ... demented and sick ... a hated city ... one of the nastiest cities in the world ... the old horror ... a ...

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