Paul Theroux Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to a steady stream of novels, Paul Theroux (thuh-REW) has published collections of short stories such as Sinning with Annie, and Other Stories (1972), World’s End (1980), and The Stranger at the Palazzo d’Oro, and Other Stories (2003). He has also published a volume of criticism, V. S. Naipaul: An Introduction to His Work (1972); a memoir, Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents (1998); and two collections of children’s stories, A Christmas Card (1978) and London Snow: A Christmas Story (1979). He is well known as the author of many travel books, including The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia(1975), The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas (1979), and Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (2002). In addition to his books, Theroux has written numerous reviews and articles, many of them based on his perceptions of events in the non-Western world; these have appeared in newspapers and periodicals such as The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, the Sunday Times (of London), Harper’s, and Encounter.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

It is in the quirky nature of fame that Paul Theroux, a prolific writer of novels, should be better known for his travel writing than for his fiction. The Great Railway Bazaar, which was a Book-of-the Month Club main selection, became a best seller in 1975, gaining for Theroux both popular and commercial success. A second travel book, The Old Patagonian Express, published four years later, firmly established his popular reputation. Both offer the reader elegant and humane examples of a genre widely practiced between the world wars that began returning to vogue in the later decades of the twentieth century. Theroux served as guest editor for the 2001 edition of The Best American Travel Writing.

In the long run, however, Theroux’s literary reputation will rest upon his fiction. He has won a small share of awards for his work, including four Playboy Editorial Awards for fiction (1972, 1976, 1977, and 1979), the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1977), and the Whitbread Prize for Fiction (for Picture Palace, 1978). In 1982, the Yorkshire Post recognized The Mosquito Coast with its Best Novel of the Year Award. The novel also won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, one of the oldest literary awards in Britain. In 1984, Theroux was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He was also made a fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Literature and the...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Barth, Ilene. “A Rake’s Progress on Four Continents.” Newsday June 1, 1989. This review of My Secret History gives a detailed plot summary of this lengthy novel. Barth compares it to Theroux’s “prickly travelogues,” noting the similarities between his fiction and his life.

Baumgold, Julie. “Fellow Traveler.” Esquire 126 (September, 1996): 184. This informal conversation with Theroux provides some insight into the author’s method of blending fact and fiction as part of his creative process.

Beecroft, Simon. “Sir Vidia’s Shadow: V. S. Naipaul, the Writer, and The Enigma of Arrival.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 35, no. 1 (2000): 71-85. Presents a structural analysis of Theroux’s book on the breakdown of his long friendship with Naipaul, comparing it with Naipaul’s own book The Enigma of Arrival.

Bell, Robert F. “Metamorphoses and Missing Halves: Allusions in Paul Theroux’s Picture Palace.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 22, no. 3 (1981): 17-30. Discusses concepts of the interchangeability of identities, the double image, and the gap existing between art and life.

Burns, Jim. “The Travels of Theroux: Seventeen Books Pay for a Lot of Train Tickets.” Herald Examiner (Los Angeles), May, 1988. This interview with Theroux provides a good sketch of what motivates him to write, to travel, and to write about traveling. Some biographical information is also included.

Coale, Samuel. Paul Theroux. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Part of Twayne’s United States Authors series, this book provides a comprehensive look at Theroux’s work as well as providing a chronology of events in the author’s life. Includes references for each chapter and a bibliography of both primary and secondary sources and an index.

Glaser, E. “The Self-Reflexive Traveler: Paul Theroux on the Art of Travel and Travel Writing.” Centennial Review 33 (Summer, 1989): 193-206. This article provides more insight into what motivates Theroux’s writing and traveling. This in-depth profile and interview of Theroux is invaluable in the light of the scarcity of book-length works about him; includes some references.

Kerr, Douglas. “A Passage to Kowloon Tong: Paul Theroux and Hong Kong, 1997.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 34, no. 2 (1999): 75-84. Discusses Theroux’s representation in his novel of the transfer of power over Hong Kong from Britain to China, and the response to the novel in Hong Kong and China.

O’Connor, Teresa F. “Jean Rhys, Paul Theroux, and the Imperial Road.” Twentieth Century Literature 38 (Winter, 1992): 404-414. Considers the possible influence of Rhys’s unpublished manuscript “Imperial Road” on Theroux’s work.