My Secret History Essay - Critical Essays

Paul Theroux

My Secret History

“In order to be strong,” says Andre, “I needed to have secrets.” His strongly imagined retrospective account of a peripatetic existence divulges some but not all of those secrets. MY SECRET HISTORY is organized as a series of very vivid portraits of Andre at successive stages of a divided life.

The reader first encounters Andre in 1956, as a fifteen-year-old altar boy at St. Raphael’s outside Boston, working funerals and weddings and torn between a priestly calling and the lures of the world. At nineteen, working as a lifeguard, he becomes the confidant of a rich older woman and the consort of one closer to his own age and indigence. In 1964, Andre is a Peace Corps volunteer, the respectable headmaster of a school in Nyasaland who pursues a secret career of sexual abandon with dozens of local women.

In 1968, working in Uganda, he is smitten by Jenny, an Englishwoman he marries. In 1974, after leaving Jenny, their young son Jack, and their home in London for a four-month railway journey to Japan, he returns to write about his experiences and to cope with knowledge of Jenny’s infidelity during his absence. The final chapter of MY SECRET HISTORY is set in 1984, as the forty-three-year-old Andre travels through India with a beautiful young woman named Eden and then returns over the same route with his wife Jenny.

Andre’s secrets--his refusal to choose one woman over another and his inability to reconcile his sexual and public selves--are erotic. He teases his readers with the possibilities of solving his dilemmas, but he also trusts them with a glimpse at how and why those dilemmas arise. The most dramatic revelation offered by the fictional author of MY SECRET HISTORY is of the obscure sources of his compulsion to write--"my deepest secret, the life I led beyond all these others.”