MY OTHER LIFE by Paul Theroux


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 An ``imaginary memoir'' in which its author and other real people become the protagonists of fictional stories, from the prolific novelist and travel writer (Millroy the Magician, 1994; The Pillars of Hercules, 1995, etc.). It's an episodic recounting of particulars we know to be similar to the facts of Theroux's life: Peace Corps service in Africa, teaching in Singapore, longtime residence in London, and continuing critical and popular literary success. The contents are decidedly mixed. For example, a reminiscence of ``Paulie's'' eccentric Uncle Hal introduces us to a fly-by-night character too much like a male Auntie Mame to be either real or convincingly fictional; one chapter would seem to be an outtake from the author's British Isles travel book The Kingdom by the Sea (1983); and a farcical recurrence of coitus interruptus scenes appears designed to correct impressions created by Theroux's My Secret History (1989), a novel generally taken to be a confessional erotic autobiography. But there are several splendid chapters, including a keenly self-mocking account of ``Paul Theroux's'' tenure as an English teacher in a ``leper village'' in Malawi; descriptions of strained relations with a ``rapacious'' English socialite who collects and exploits young writers and with an older, enigmatic German writer; and amusingly delineated encounters with Anthony Burgess (``I never knew any writer who worked harder or was more generous''), and with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at a memorable London dinner party. If Theroux reaches no satisfactory conclusion about this passion for travel and impulse toward the condition of exile, he nevertheless writes lucidly about the process of writing--its unaccountable stops and starts, the unpredictable forms inspiration takes--and writing's influence on personality. Not one of its author's best books, but frequent infusions of wit and inventiveness rescue it from becoming (what it might otherwise have been) the Cliff's Notes version of the life and career of Paul Theroux. (First serial to the New Yorker & Granta; Book-of-the-Month Club selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1996
ISBN: 0-395-82527-X
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1996


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