The Pillars of Hercules

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Paul Theroux is a respected novelist, but he also has won acclaim for writing invigorating—and at times infuriating—travel books. Some of his most extraordinary travel books include THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR (1975), THE OLD PATAGONIAN EXPRESS (1979), RIDING THE IRON ROOSTER (1988), and THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA (1992). In his travel writings, Theroux always has made it a point to avoid the commonplace no matter what the consequences. To him, traveling means being authentic to oneself and what one encounters. Theroux has never been shy at being painfully honest. While his honest observations may not tell universal truths or tell the whole truth about a people or a location, his observations do tell a very human story.

In THE PILLARS OF HERCULES, Theroux relates his experience of traveling for more than a year throughout the coastal regions that border the Mediterranean Sea. The journey began at the Rock of Gibraltar (one of the pillars of Hercules) and ended at Jebel Musa in Morocco (the other pillar of Hercules). In between, Theroux traveled through such countries as Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt. He avoided most of the locations that lure tourists to these countries. As a voracious reader, Theroux injects observations that have been made by various literary giants who spent time in the Mediterranean. As usual, some of Theroux’s pronouncements can be quite cruel. He may wear his elitism on his sleeve, but he does acknowledge beauty when it is encountered. For an added bonus, Theroux visited the Nobel Prize-winning author, Naguib Mahfouz, in Cairo, Egypt; and the legendary author, Paul Bowles, in Tangier, Morocco. While THE PILLARS OF HERCULES has some irritating low points, for the most part it contains lively glimpses into the exotic landscape that surrounds the Mediterranean Sea.