The popular success of The Great Railway Bazaar may well relax the cordon which has restricted most of Theroux's novels,...



The popular success of The Great Railway Bazaar may well relax the cordon which has restricted most of Theroux's novels, critical admiration to the contrary. The ""family arsenal"" becomes the tag which means home to divers miscreants and militants in London: two street-smart urchins; a well-educated girl who has ripped off a Flemish painting; some IRA Provos and their pursuants; and a few fringe characters, perhaps too close to caricature for comfort or belief--an aging actress, a prim accountant, and an avid woman with ugly penchants. But at the center of everything is Valentine Hood, a former US consul sacked after punching a government official in Hue--Hood who was ""turned around"" and off by Vietnam, forged a passport for himself, and has taken sanctuary in the lower depths of Deptford. Here he hopes to fred a ""liberating fantasy you could believe in, a new world"" and although remote by temperament and retreating behind a haze of opium, he does participate in the Provo cause. Given no choice, he kills a man. At first out of pity, later out of love, he takes care of his victim's widow, Lorna, and her son. He also moves the dead man's cache of stolen TV sets to his own rooms in the communal quarters where he keeps his diminishing two kilos of opium and a few oriental objets d'art. But after Lorna is assaulted, he realizes that the ""Third World is a graveyard of idealists,"" dissolves the family arsenal, leaves the house wired for demolition, and exits from England. Within the frame of the riffraffish underworld, all spiked with color and humor and noise and cruelty, there's a seriousness of purpose. Hood, gray with indecision and a flawed hope only one step ahead of failure, could easily walk out of a Graham Greene novel. But also like Theroux's own Singapore Saint Jack, he rises and quietly shines above a milieu which has a glib amorality and bravado--""one bomb in Oxford Street is better than ten in Belfast."" Theroux is always an original and gifted entrepreneur--shafting his quick changes of life and death or just catch-as-catch-can survival with style and headlong spirit.

Pub Date: July 19, 1976


Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1976