Thursday, March 27, 2008

Theroux by Train

As you read travel books, you should be able to see the people and places, to hear them, to smell them. Some of it is painful, but travel - its very motion - ought to suggest hope. Despair is the armchair; its indifference and glazed, incurious eyes. I think travellers are essentially optimists, or else they would never go anywhere. A travel book ought to reflect that optimism.
I'm a little slow posting a link to Paul Theroux's excellent piece on reinventing travel writing in the Guardian the other day (so thanks Uma for the nudge). Some of Theroux's best books have been based on long train journeys, and two of them The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express, have just been reissued in the Penguin Modern Classics series.

I've read almost all of Theroux's travel writing over the years (the exception being Dark Star Safari which is on my to-be-read shelf).

He is, though, something of a grouchy travel companion at times. I did get a bit cross with him in The Great Railway Bazaar which describes a journey across Asia. When he got to the part of the trip I was most anticipating, the Trans-Siberian leg, the author was so pissed off with travelling that he offered really jaundiced descriptions of the great snowy wastes of Russia. It's still a journey I'd love to make one day.

And I've never forgiven him for his rather negative descriptions of Britain in Kingdom by the Sea. perhaps he sees us Brits as we really are, but that's not an excuse to tell the whole world.


Anonymous said...

It's some years since I read the GRB, but I noticed at the time that half his journey (London to Vladivostok? Or was it Japan?) took up about 90% of his book.
Years later I read a piece by Theroux explaining that he had received some bad news (his marriage was disintegrating) from his wife of the time which soured the remainder of his journey. It explained the sourness.
I enjoyed his little story of the chap from the White Rose Cafe in Vientiane. And also Theroux's story of how he went to the house where his wife and her boyfriend were hosting a dinner party brandishing a pistol and terrorising the guests. The pistol was a water pistol into which he had urinated. True or not?!

bibliobibuli said...

yes, you're right, and i remember reading that too ... but it doesn't make the last part of the book any more of a let down. authors have private lives?

i don't remember the story about the pistol though ...

Anonymous said...

Mmm... you've set me a challenge there. I've just flicked through 'My Other Life' and didn't spot the piece. Perhaps it's in 'My Secret History', which I seem to have misplaced, or more probably, 'lent'.
BTW, I'm a little surprised that you haven't read 'Dark Star Safari'. It is, after all, about Africa...

bibliobibuli said...

i can lend you "my secret history" if you need it ...

i guess i haven't read "dark star safari" yet because someone borrowed it for months and bu the time i got it back i had so many other things to read. always the case!

Emily said...

Hi Sharon,

I read "my secret history" just prior to KLAB this year and released it to a local male writer there!

The water pistol thingy is from "my secret history" and it was rather hilarious!

Sharon, would you have a copy of the "riding the iron rooster" to lend?

Emily aka AuntyJo from Malaysian_Bookcrossers

bibliobibuli said...

sure, emily, can lend "riding the iron rooster"

drop off point? seksan's this sat might be a good point or i can leave it with raman at silverfish

Emily said...

Sharon! Silverfish would be great! I will then take the opportunity to get a second copy of Saradha's The Freedom of Choice!

I am sorry but I will not be able to attend this Saturday's event at Seksan cos I am advised to stay away from other folks for a week and that week is only up on Wed next! sob!

ps: have you read Saradha's Freedom of Choice?

bibliobibuli said...

no haven't read saradha's book yet. would be interested to know what you think (though i guess it must be favourable if this is the second copy you're buying!) will try to remember to drop off your book with raman either fri or sat and you can return it same way. it's probably a pretty tatty copy so sorry for that!

Emily said...

Shall I leave my first copy of Freedom at Raman's for you? Then it will be a fair loan!

Tatty? meant its well loved! and thats the way I love them, dog earred and all! But promised to return it to you still tatty and not shabby! LOL!