Sun, Apr 15, 2001 - Page 19 News List

Theroux strikes again

Autobiographical fiction writer Paul Theroux unleashes his characteristically harsh treatment of his subjects in `Hotel Honolulu'

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Strangest of all, though, is the story of the author's own marriage to a young Hawaiian girl. She is presented as being the offspring of a one-night stand in a luxury hotel between her mother and a "distinguished visitor" back in the 1960s. When that visitor is revealed as having almost certainly been President Kennedy, Theroux (or anyway the book's narrator) slides into pole position as the father of Kennedy's unacknowledged grand-daughter.

When an actual literary figure turns up at Waikiki in the form of Leon Edel, a real-life biographer of the novelist Henry James, he seems positively tame by comparison. He and Theroux share a few cultured lunches together, concluding that they are "extraterrestrials" in the balmy tropical paradise. "We mused without regret, knowing that we really belonged back there [in the US east coast literary world] but had succeeded in slipping away."

Theroux is a supreme entertainer. He has mastered the most difficult of all arts for a writer -- that of being simultaneously intelligent and popular. He makes no compromises, and yet all his books are sure-fire best-sellers.

This is a book of grotesques, and almost every chapter is a story unto itself. It's as if Theroux had himself been writing satirical profiles for the local Honolulu newspaper, and this book is their collected edition. Each chapter ends with either a witticism or a final twist in the tail.

Hotel Honolulu is a comic masterpiece. Huge numbers of its episodes are real gems, and many of the characters deserve a permanent place in the world gallery of larger-than-life fictional giants, despite their being, in all probability, based on real people.

Theroux should be appreciated for what he is, a supreme literary master of our age, far more sophisticated than professional humorists such as Art Buchwald, and the equal of classic authors like Mark Twain. His books may feel raw and abrasive, but it's precisely because he's no conformist that he's so valuable. We may sometimes cringe at his outspokenness, but whatever else he is, he's always true to himself.

The book ends with Theroux becoming transformed into a sort of Thoreau, keeping bees in a remote Hawaiian bungalow with his young wife and daughter and, as he says "rock happy."

This is one of the most enjoyable books I have encountered for a very long time. However much he may have planned to escape the life of writing, Theroux is here again, and in top form. All there really is left to say is "Welcome back, and thank you."

Publication Notes:

Hotel Honolulu

By Paul Theroux

492 pages

Hamish Hamilton

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