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Port Mungo

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2004

    Art with a Darker Palette

    Patrick McGrath finds genetic seeds for characters who border on the edge of maladaptation or evil or amorality. PORT MUNGO follows the line of his successful THE ASYLUM, DR. HAGGARD'S DISEASE, MARTHA PEAKE, and SPIDER, and despite the fact that he can be considered the progenitor for unlikable characters, he explores the psyches of these odd creatures with such skill that their darker sides often mesmerize us.Jack Rathbone is a 17-year-old youth in the UK who aspires to be an artist and lives with his sister Gin (the narrator of the story) who is devoted to her younger brother in a near pathologic manner. Jack encounters Vera Savage, an exotic bohemian painter from Scotland who is well shown in the UK, and falls under the spell of his older chanteuse/alcoholic/free love personage. The two become entwined as sexual partners and Jack encourages Vera to move to New York where they will open an 'American Studio' in the wildness of a new country and Jack will learn painting (and other lessons) from Vera. Once in Manhattan their painting is delayed by Vera's insatiable need to be the center of attention among new artsy acquaintances and her alcoholism triggers periods of absence. Feeling confined by New York the two decide to seek other locations to pursue their art, and after a brief stay in Havana, Cuba they find the perfect isolation in Port Mungo - a seedy, smarmy, decadent Maughamesque spot in the Gulf of Honduras. There they paint, drink, carouse, and while Jack develops a painting style of 'tropicalism', Vera begins to follow her sexual needs in adventures away from Port Mungo. Always reuniting after these trysts and fights, they eventually have a daughter Peg and some years later another daughter Anna. Vera soon deserts her family, leaving Jack (and on occasion his sister Gin) to raise the girls. Peg is more in the mold of her mother and is worshipped by Jack, but Peg dies in a quasi-mysterious fashion plunging Jack into a deep depression.Jack returns to New York to live with his sister Gin, and scathing rumors result in daughter Anna being adopted by her uncle who sees Jack as an inadequate parent. Time passes until Anna returns as a young woman to re-enter Jack's life - older, wiser, and needy. From this point on the story passes rapidly, enriched by characters who all deftly interplay with the strange history of what really happened in Port Mungo. Vera's absence is explained, Peg's death is clarified, and the true nature of each of these fascinating characters is painted before our eyes.McGrath leaves no one free of fault, of the ability to have a dark side, or to demonstrate that their chameleon lives can shed a dermis to reveal the core animal beneath. He writes so well that once the story is started it is difficult to put aside, so wary are we of the tension always mounting. He understands art and the artistic mind and has depicted the artist/model relationship as well as anyone writing today. You may not like the characters in this book, but they will remain indelibly stamped on your mind. Here is another fine work by one of our better novelists writing today.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2004


    In his five previous novels (most notably 'Asylum') Patrick McGrath has proven to be an author who writes with compelling intensity, fashioning a love story that haunts and surprises. He's a master at painting tragedy where one least expects to find it. This, for many, may be the fascination of 'Port Mungo.' Told largely in flashbacks this is the saga of the Rathbones. Jack, a young painter is adored and cosseted by his older sister, Gin. Theirs is a privileged existence. While attending art school in London 17-year-old Jack is besotted by Vera Savage, an older avant garde painter. The pair leave what they consider to be the suffocating confines of London for New York City. Once there, Jack 'could see no earthly reason why, with Vera beside him, he should not achieve all he knew he had it in him to achieve.' But New York doesn't prove to be the haven or inspiration he had imagined, and the pair flee to the South, very far South, Honduras, to a fictional town, Port Mungo, 'a once prosperous river town now gone to seed, wilting and steaming among the mangrove swamps of the Gulf of Honduras.' Gin visits there only once for a period of ten days. She has come to see the couple's first child, a daughter, Peg. Once there, she learns that Vera is an alcoholic given to countless affairs. Motherhood did not agree with Vera nor did it cause her to settle down. Nonetheless, a second daughter is born, Anna. At the age of 16 Peg dies mysteriously, her body found in swamp water. This is a tragedy that seemingly Jack cannot endure, thus he returns to New York City and Gin. But now his painting, when he can work is dark and foreboding. Gone are the brilliant colors of the tropics, the light that had once been captured by his brush. Much later Anna also comes to the City, asking questions about her sister's death, wanting to know more about her parents. Anna's appearance sparks a series of heartbreaking events. Read 'Port Mungo' for the pleasure of Patrick McGrath's flawless prose, to enjoy his evocative descriptive text. Read it to learn the secrets of another's heart.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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