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.