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Blinding Light [Paperback]

Paul Theroux
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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3.0 out of 5 stars In search of inspiration July 25 2006
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
There are better Theroux out there. Every so often, Theroux will wander out of his traditional balliwack of travel writing to create a thriller dealing with unfulfilled machismo in some enchanted Central American kingdom. "Mosquito Coast" was one such foray, "Blinding Light" is another. The desperation that drives Steadman in this novel is how to overcome the very present fear of being dismissed as a one-time writer phenome. The fear is so acute that he abandons all scruples and takes off in typical Theroux fashion, with an ex-lover in tow, to find the magic, that will jump start is his rather stagnating career.As a spiritual quest of sorts, the novel reads, at times, like a Canterbury Tale experience. Steadman falls in with a group of tourists conveniently thrown together to offer contrast as they share their life perspectives on their journey towards the goal of a mind-expanding, mountain top experience. Most of them are portray typical touristy values from stateside that represent everything that has gone wrong in Steadman's writing career. His success as a writer has been reduced to living off the crass marketing of his only achievement, a best seller book. Along the way to ingesting the magic potion that might change all this, Steadman encounters a few surprises about himself in his quest to both reaffirming himself as a writer and establishing himself as a human being. By the end of the story, we see a supposedly transformed Steadman who writes with soul and passion. The problem here is that I am left wondering if this novel is yet another attempt by Theroux to squeeze the last bit of creative juice from his lagging career. After all, there is at most only three to four good novels in every writer's career, and Theroux has far surpassed that mark with mixed results.
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Amazon.com: 2.5 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Too Long (In the Middle) Oct. 20 2006
By Hairy Corn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Paul Theroux is known as a descriptive writer, and much of the work is good - if that style of writing is to your taste.

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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's satyrical! Aug. 5 2006
By Michael Waymire - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have to respectfully disagree with the other posted reviews. This novel is a satire. It's poking fun at the main character, Steadman. He's meant to be a pathetic writer who intentionally denies himself and his character through the use of datura. Without it, he feels like he has nothing to contribute to his audience regardless of the astounding success of his first book. His obsession with sex and the "blind insights" he achieves regarding his sex life under the drug's influence are his only sources of inspiration. He's a pathetic and lost individual who's deluded himelf into believing that his erotic, hallucinogenic musings are SOMEHOW redeeming. They aren't. This is a story about a man who's so afraid of himself that thinks he needs to pose as a blindman to be recognized as someone with value. In addition to his anti-Freudian message, I believe Theroux meant this book to be a diatribe against any artist who needs drugs in their systems to create. Blinding Light is self-deception. I don't happen to agree with this premise, but it was artfully illustrated in this novel. I found this book to be thought-provoking and an enjoyable read.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new (still satrical) chapter in Theroux' journey into the mind of a man Aug. 4 2008
By shannonhills - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I loved this book, but I've loved every Paul Theroux novel. I suspect that most first-time readers of Theroux' novels will be offended and put off by this book. On the surface it reads like an egotistical, self-absorbed, name-dropping exercise in denial. In a vacuum, this novel is a train wreck. But taken in the context of the author's previous works, it is pure brilliance.

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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars self-indulgent Paul May 6 2010
By e-lectra - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I haven't finished the book yet but I have to say I am so relieved to have survived the middle section that I have to get my thoughts down now. I don't object to its being erotic, but it is non-stop, repetitious and makes you wonder about the writer whose fantasies just don't let up.

In his travel books Theroux visits redlight districts and dwells on child prostitutes in many countries, claiming never to indulge; here he lets it all hang out, except that the imagery is so relentless you wonder whether he ever gets any satisfaction. Fantasies usually vanish once the deed is done.

In the hero's reminiscences, at age 14 he supposedly loses his virginity to a same-age girl but it turns out the year before he was the sex slave of a friend's mother, which Steadman brushes off as her having needs. Right! The need to be a child molester. And somehow that bratty friend never teases him over how much time he spends indoors with his own Mom.

As well, women in this book are not particularly well treated. Once Ava is not having fanciful sex in costume every night, she is suddenly 100% distracted by her doctor job, dresses only in scrubs and becomes totally clinical. There is a misogyny that comes through his characterizations of the female as either aggressively sexual (fantasy female), mean or critical.

The beginning was great because it was like a travel book. As in Elephanta Suite, which was also sex-obsessed but managed to keep it in perspective, Theroux doesn't seem to edit himself much and his reflective moments wind the same theme over and over again. Don't his editors have the guts to make him cut?

Point of detail: most of those psychotropic plants have poisons like strichnine in them which is what gives you visions. A daily diet of datura would likely have killed him long before a year was out and certainly made him crazy. Also, in many of the books his Spanish is often inaccurate, mispelled and poorly translated. Again, where are the editors?

I liked Hotel Honolulu, Mosquito Coast, all the travel books, and I am up for reading the rest of the novels, but sex in a novel is a spice not a main course. I am hoping that the farther back in time we go, the more balanced he gets about that.

Elephanta was wickedly on the mark in its satires of Indian culture. He does so well at scene and milieu. Those are the parts I like.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Spare Me July 21 2006
By shawteeroc - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
To echo what other reviewers said, this book was just awful. The dust cover promised lots of psychedelia and sex and it never fulfilled either of these. Which is fine, since I'm not really a drugs and sex type of reader. But it never really does anything else. You never get a good idea of what the main character is feeling, just a lot of droning rhetoric. It changes tone too many times and it just all over the place. The last section gets a little better as it picks up some momentum, but the author doesn't evoke any sympathy for his character so ultimately you are just a passive bystander instead of feeling emotionally entrenched in the fate of the character. A lot of self centeredness and boy's fantasies get played out as if they are reality. Can one man really attract that many women that want no sexual satisfaction further than to pleasure a man, with no interest in reciprocity? I highly doubt it.
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