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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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Book Description

June 1 2006
Slade Steadman is the author of a world-famous travel book, but has struggled to match its success for the past thirty years. A journey downriver in a remote eastern province of Ecuador gives him the experience he has been seeking and a miracle drug, which induces temporary blindness. On his return to the USA, Steadman is rejuvenated able not only to write and remember, but granted an almost uncanny prescience, bordering on second sight.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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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.

From Booklist

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.

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Most helpful customer reviews
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.7 out of 5 stars  43 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.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of Theroux's best May 23 2005
By Gregory R. Luck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have been a Theroux reader for a couple of years. When I saw the book I grabbed it. The plot sounded a little odd. I was not sure that I would like it, but I took the chance. I was not disappointed.

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.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting antihero July 28 2005
By Eileen Rieback - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In "Blinding Light," Slade Steadman has lived the life of a wealthy recluse on Martha's Vineyard from the income generated from his phenomenally successful book "Trespassing." In the twenty years since the publication of this travelogue about traveling without benefit of a passport, he has not been able to write another book. He decides to take a drug tour to the Ecuadorian jungle in the hopes that this will inspire him to create the novel he is meant to write. The drug he takes there, known as datura, or the tiger's blindfold, simultaneously provides blindness and extraordinary clarity of inner vision. He smuggles the drug back into the States and uses it for controlled blindness in order to gain heightened awareness and insight into his past so that he can write a semiautobiographical novel. He becomes addicted to it as he dictates his novel to his lover Ava.

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.

Eileen Rieback
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blinding Visions June 17 2005
By The JuRK - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've been a Paul Theroux fan for almost 20 years now (the first book of his I read was HALF MOON STREET in 1986, and what few I haven't read, I just haven't got to yet but will), and I believe that BLINDING LIGHT is one of his best.

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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Faust July 27 2006
By D. S. Birns - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
No one else has mentioned that this is a retelling of the Faust legend, so I thought I'd add this note.

The story had me completely absorbed. So much so that I felt used up after reading it. It rang true with me emotionally and afterwards I guess I was a bit frightened that I was so absorbed in this character who was, after all, making a deal with the devil.

However, most retellings of the Faust story do sympathize with the soul that wants more than we're normally allotted in this life.
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