Blinding Light Paperback – Jun 1 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Theroux's antihero, Slade Steadman, chronicled his renegade days of globetrotting without the aid of a passport in the bestselling Trespassing—20 years ago. Living luxuriously off royalties on Martha's Vineyard, he has been struggling to finish a second book ever since. Things change when he flies to Ecuador in quest of a potent performance-enhancing drug. He smuggles back to the U.S. a year's supply of the rare datura, which when ingested produces temporary blindness and a paradoxical "blinding light" that exposes truths about the world, truths he uses to complete his pompous, solipsistic Book of Revelation. The substance also luckily boosts his libido, for his relationship with tenacious obstetrician Ava has been on the rocks lately. Prolific Theroux (Dark Star Safari; Hotel Honolulu; etc.) oversaturates this novel with smutty, purplish passages describing cartoonish erotic encounters. The cheap sexual transgressions of a thinly veiled Bill Clinton character also take center stage as Theroux overworks a mirroring link between the fallible president and Steadman, who after the publication of his book continues to deceive his friends and the clamoring public by claiming to be truly blind. Theroux's language is typically vivid and lush when describing the Ecuadorian jungle. On the whole, however, his prose is repetitive, and Steadman is uncongenial, his fate after a year of substance abuse all too predictable. Agent, Andrew Wylie. Author tour. (June 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Unlike Slade Steadman, the one-book wonder portrayed in this suspenseful Faustian tale of toxic inspiration, Theroux has 40 books to his credit, including a number of edgy best-selling travel chronicles. A masterful and mesmerizing storyteller who has seen it all, Theroux is drawn to transgression and the darker zones of eroticism, and there is much irony in Steadman's claim to fame, Trespassing, a book about his travels around the world without a passport. Trespassing has made Steadman, now 50, rich, but he hasn't been able to write in years. Enter Ava, a beautiful doctor, who convinces him to go on a drug tour in Ecuador. There an overbearing German journalist becomes Steadman's savior and nemesis by introducing him to a psychotropic plant known as the tiger's blindfold. Although the hallucinogen does, indeed, temporarily blind Steadman, it also heightens his extrasensory powers of perception and dispels his writer's block. By day he dictates an explicit novel to Ava, then, at night, they reenact the lascivious encounters he describes (is this a variation on every writer's secret fantasy?). But as in all the indelible old myths about hubris and forbidden powers, Steadman goes too far. And he is not alone, as Theroux slyly links Steadman's harrowing downfall to that of another powerful man who can't help but tempt fate, President Bill Clinton. Theroux's greatest powers reside in his detailed and sensuous descriptions, and he is positively dazzling here as he calls forth a vivid world not of sights but of scents, sounds, and touch. So all-consuming does this sexy, gothic fable and searing social critique become, it itself serves as a mind-altering substance. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The middle of this book is too long and drawn out, and frankly the drug-induced sexual encounters became tedious. I couldn't wait for them to end - perhaps I was being held prisoner in a similar way to Steadman's girlfirend Ava.
The tail end of the book was a little more enjoyable - bear in mind, however that this is not a thriller, and the end is somewhat predictable. If the editor had removed about 60 pages from the middle of the book it would have been a great read.
My Advice: Read the start, proceed through the middle until it bores you, then fast forward to the end.
Steadman then comes out of seclusion to attend social functions and to go on a book tour, while pretending that his blindness is permanent rather than temporarily drug-induced. Eventually, however, the drug no longer works in a predictable way. His visionary blindness begins to give way to a much darker blindness while the secret of his success is in danger of disclosure. The character of Steadman is an interesting one. Acting the clairvoyant blind man, he swaggers, mind reads, brags of his omniscience, and impresses everyone up to and including President Clinton. He is an antihero as egotistical and colorful as Paul Theroux's Allie Fox, and is destined for as hard a fall.
This story is full of metaphor and symbolism. There are sleep masks, blindfolds, festival masks, and blind people. There are constant references to light and darkness, awareness and ignorance, sight and blindness. The best scenes are those in the Ecuadorian jungle, and they are reminiscent of Theroux's "The Mosquito Coast." The most tedious are those in Steadman's house as he dictates the erotic scenes for his novel and acts them out with Ava. These sexual narratives and flashbacks are overwrought and add little to the story. If they had been trimmed back considerably, I would have rated the book five stars instead of four.
A couple of pages in I was hooked. The book starts off with a journey taken incognito by Steadman, a famous but
"has-been" author. The descriptions of his fellow travellers are spot on, particularly the boastful Californians and Janey, the Brit.
Steadman, the narrator and central character, voluntarily descends into darkness, first geographically, then literally and erotically. One wonders, as with some of Theroux's other work, how close it is to real experience.
At times Steadman, who oftens listens and observes, but rarely speaks, is accused of being voyreuristic. As the reader it almost feels like you are in the bedroom with Steadman and Ava. You feel like Steadman - the voyeur.
I read the book in two days. It was difficult to put down.
The only disappointing part of the book was that Part 6, which has to cover a fair bit of ground, was only 6 pages long and Part 5 dragged a little.
A highly original and wonderful story.
I see this book as a natural extension/progression in Theroux' literary exploration of what it means to be a man. For me, this exploration started with "The Mosquito Coast," which I read in 1981, and which has haunted me ever since. From the beginning of "Blinding Light" I saw similarities between Steadman and Allie Fox, the protagonist of "The Mosquito Coast." They are both so sure of themselves, so full of themselves, yet so isolated from the rest of humanity. Each believes he is the only living person who has the Answer to the Human Condition, and each wants nothing whatsoever to do with anyone "less fortunate" than them. In "Mosquito Coast," Allie ("Father") is a tree-hugger inventor/farmer. I believe his children are home-schooled. His idea of freedom, which he preaches to his wife and kids with every breath he takes, lies in returning to the "natural" state of things. He constantly declares to his wife and children, "If it can't be grown here, I have no use for it!" Except, evidently, for the hydrogen and nitrogen and other chemicals he arranges to have shipped to South America when he moves his family there in order to build a giant freezer in the middle of the equatorial rain forest! How different is Steadman's journey?
Like Allie, Steadman is an introvert-snob; he knows he's smarter than 99.9% of the people on the planet. He also knows he's a fraud. His incredibly successful travel book was a complete fluke, an experience nobody, including Steadman, could ever consciously reproduce. To his credit, he definitely tries; he spends 10 years trying to come up with a "great, new" idea, to no avail. One day he hears of a "mind-altering" drug that can only be experienced in the jungles of South America, and he's convinced that it is the only thing that will produce a breakthrough, the subject of which will inevitably become his next book.
It turns out that Steadman is right. The mind-altering drug he finds in the jungle DOES actually transport him to "see" things as he has never seen them before. And it DOES produce fodder for his next book. But, as we all know, there are no free lunches. The insight and vision Steadman receives comes at a price.
In allegorical terms, this book can be seen as the tale of the Garden of Eden: given the gift of the fruit of KNOWLEDGE, how will you use it? Steadman uses it to hob-knob with presidents and celebrities and act like a complete arrogant, idiotic schmuck! Just like Allie Fox. In Allie's case, the fruit of Knowledge was his own brain, but he used it in the same arrogant, idiotic, BLIND way.
Some of the reviewers of this book have objected to the lame attempt at erotica. They are right - but I think it's intentional. My reading of the book is that it's ANTI-erotica. It's satirical. It's making fun of Steadman's belief that it's erotic.
Everything I love about his writing is here: exotic (but at times painfully uncomfortable) travel, garish and obnoxious characters, graphic but intimate sexual episodes and power plays (against the backdrop of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, no less!). And, since this is fiction, Theroux can weave a mysterious drug into the plot that is fantastic and fascinating.
The novel has such an authentic feel that, from reading Theroux's other works, I wondered how much of it actually happened. The opening travel chapters felt like his nonfiction travel books. I can easily see Theroux, who grew up and (as far as I know) maintained a residence in New England, appearing at high-powered celebrity parties at Martha's Vineyard. He even makes a brief mention of growing up at a swimming pool. The added interest in his works, for me, has always been to wonder whether "this really happened" or not.
BLINDING LIGHT is one of his best.