My Other Life

Overview

In the Washington Post Book World, Sven Birkerts called this exuberant novel "a complex and gripping work of invention and confession . . . I understood again how the prose of a true writer can bring us to a world beyond." The book spans almost thirty years in the life of a fictional "Paul Theroux," who moves through young bachelorhood in Africa, in and out of marriage, affairs, and employment, and between continents. It's a wry, worldly, erotic, and deeply moving account of one man's first half century - "among ...

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My Other Life

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Overview

In the Washington Post Book World, Sven Birkerts called this exuberant novel "a complex and gripping work of invention and confession . . . I understood again how the prose of a true writer can bring us to a world beyond." The book spans almost thirty years in the life of a fictional "Paul Theroux," who moves through young bachelorhood in Africa, in and out of marriage, affairs, and employment, and between continents. It's a wry, worldly, erotic, and deeply moving account of one man's first half century - "among the strongest things Theroux has ever written" (New York Times Book Review).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"among the strongest things Theroux has ever written" The New York Times

"Theroux's best and most entertaining book to date . . a seriously funny novel" Time Magazine

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Theroux has previously played with the identity of a novel's protagonist (in My Secret History), but this time his work is considerably more personal and entertaining, if less profound. It is in effect a fictionalized memoir in which the stages of his life are tellingly illuminated by what amount to a succession of brilliant short stories. Certain themes recur throughout: the narrator is constantly about to be seduced by determined but unsuitable women from whom he retreats at the last moment; he is always reminding himself of the fragile but oddly intimate relationship between writer and reader; and he bears an agonizing sense of exile from an everyday, quietly satisfying domestic existence he seems to cherish but can never attain (hence his compulsive travels). The line between fiction and reminiscence is deliberately and skillfully blurred, so that such choice episodes as a disastrous dinner party held to introduce Anthony Burgess to a lifelong fan, and another (for which Theroux crosses the Atlantic specially) that stars a very convincing Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, are at once triumphs of comic realism and of dark fantasy. Did he really meet an obscure German writer whose life and work seemed exactly to parallel his own? An Australian reporter he had once dismissed with a slighting line in a book, only to find she was a more seasoned and knowledgeable traveler than he? A seductive murderess in a remote Yorkshire coastal cottage? A louche London socialite who transformed Theroux's career before moving on, rapaciously, to another young writer victim? It doesn't matter. The book is so vividly compellingand melancholyas to remind a reader once more of how hugely talentedthough, alas, sometimes unevena writer Theroux can be. First serial to the New Yorker and Granta; BOMC selection; author tour. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Expatriate novelist and travel writer Theroux (Pillar of Hercules, LJ 9/15/95) takes stock of his life at mid-point in a loosely connected series of reminiscences covering his youth in Medford, Massachusetts, Peace Corps work in Africa, teaching in Singapore, and the momentous decision to settle permanently in England. Although he agonizes over the recent breakup of his marriage, Theroux's wife and children are mostly invisible. He grudgingly admits that the divorce may have been precipitated by his extended absences, but he never examines his wanderlust and disingenuously portrays himself as a dedicated homebody. The narrator of this book certainly resembles the famous writer of the same name, but in an introductory note Theroux insists that this is an imaginary memoir, a "what if" fantasy. Everything is fictional, including the vivid portraits of Anthony Burgess, Queen Elizabeth, and murderer Nathan Leopold. This is autobiography in the postmodern mode, very much like Jerry Kosinski's outrageous Hermit of Sixty Ninth Street (Kensington, 1991). True or not, Theroux's anecdotes are compulsively readable. For most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/96.]Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch., Los Angeles
Kirkus Reviews
An "imaginary memoir" in which its author and other real people become the protagonists of fictional stories, from the prolific novelist and travel writer (Millroy the Magician, 1994; The Pillars of Hercules, 1995, etc.).

It's an episodic recounting of particulars we know to be similar to the facts of Theroux's life: Peace Corps service in Africa, teaching in Singapore, longtime residence in London, and continuing critical and popular literary success. The contents are decidedly mixed. For example, a reminiscence of "Paulie's" eccentric Uncle Hal introduces us to a fly-by-night character too much like a male Auntie Mame to be either real or convincingly fictional; one chapter would seem to be an outtake from the author's British Isles travel book The Kingdom by the Sea (1983); and a farcical recurrence of coitus interruptus scenes appears designed to correct impressions created by Theroux's My Secret History (1989), a novel generally taken to be a confessional erotic autobiography. But there are several splendid chapters, including a keenly self-mocking account of "Paul Theroux's" tenure as an English teacher in a "leper village" in Malawi; descriptions of strained relations with a "rapacious" English socialite who collects and exploits young writers and with an older, enigmatic German writer; and amusingly delineated encounters with Anthony Burgess ("I never knew any writer who worked harder or was more generous"), and with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at a memorable London dinner party. If Theroux reaches no satisfactory conclusion about this passion for travel and impulse toward the condition of exile, he nevertheless writes lucidly about the process of writing—its unaccountable stops and starts, the unpredictable forms inspiration takes—and writing's influence on personality.

Not one of its author's best books, but frequent infusions of wit and inventiveness rescue it from becoming (what it might otherwise have been) the Cliff's Notes version of the life and career of Paul Theroux.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395877524
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 414,454
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Theroux

PAUL THEROUX's highly acclaimed novels include Blinding Light, Hotel Honolulu, My Other Life, Kowloon Tong, and The Mosquito Coast. His travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Dark Star Safari, Riding the Iron Rooster, The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, and The Happy Isles of Oceania . He lives in Hawaii and on Cape Cod.

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