Saturday, 1 December 2012

Blinding Light


To pick up Paul Theroux's Blinding Light (Mariner, 2006), is to be subsumed by a world of the senses. The sensual is never far from a line. To me it recalled the almost Gothic Vathek which describes the palace of Vathek - a sensualist - who has a hall to satisfy each of the senses.

Attracted by the reference to Ecuador, which seems to provide the seed of the writer Slade Steadman's descent into blindness/insight, I gave the book a go in the November break. Close on the heels of Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos by Margaret Mascarenhas, I hoped this novel too would give me an insight into Latin America. However the thrall of locale among the Secoya tribe in Ecuador seems only superficial at the end of the novel.

The action is firmly set in the author's home territory, Long Island Sound, where he lives on Cape Cod, surrounded in splendid isolation by the sea. A promontory, as it were, off New York, Long island Sound -- or just Sound -- is lavished with lush descriptions of the changing seasons around. Even when Steadman leaves the island to flit to Boston or New York he is never far away mentally from the sound. In fact the reader wonders if he will be claimed by the waters in the final pages beyond the pier. The pathos of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is here wherein only the slush of the waters seems to harbor all the answers to life - its vicissitudes, its elation, and its deep meditation on love in all its aspects.

The book refers to two personages who impressed the world by their personalities, viz. Bill Clinton and Lady Diana. Both personalities were on a quest for love/gratification outside the frame of the licit. Which is what Steadman finds in his relationship with Ava and her partner. Melanie his second wife only dupes him compelling him to divorce her with damages.

At the heart of the novel is the writer's quest for a story. Does a writer have to experience whatever he writes? Steadman would concur.

On the other side on the west coast of America another writer is writing, ensconced by the otters at Moss Landing, near Santacruz, California.  The lead story on Jonathan Franzen, a survey of American writers, strangely does not include Theroux. I am still looking for answers.

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Lev Grossman, 'Jonathan Franzen. The Wide Shot' Time 23 August 2010: 35-40

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