Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Travels with Theroux

Paul Theroux confesses to an attraction for the wild and ‘clumsy romance of strangeness’ in his 1979 book The Old Patagonia Express. The author and travel writer is remarkable for the way he literally seeks out strangeness. Remote villages, nowhere places, seedy bars, decrepit trains, but mostly what he’s drawn to are characters - in particular the weird ones. I love his style, his descriptive powers. Trenchant, pungent, and highly opinionated, reminiscent of his old mentor VS Naipul. For someone who is a prolific writer of books about travels in far-flung places, it’s not the journey that he enjoys.

“I think any sensible person would admit that the experience of travel, no matter what kind -- whether it's plane, train, bus, boat, car -- it's awful. It's uncomfortable. It's tedious. It's repetitive. And in order to achieve the epiphanies of travel -- the vistas, the experiences -- you have to go through an awful lot of hell and high water.” (Salon Interview)
Really, he’s no tourist. What he's after is the geography of strangeness located in people.

I’m reading Patagonia and some of the locals (including occasional displaced Americanos) are so bizarre and peculiar, they’re caricatures of dislocated humanity. But that's why they make interesting reading. I get the feeling that he enjoys constructing narratives around the folks he meets so he can deconstruct them. Long after you put the book down, it's not the sights you remember. It's the people.

No comments: