three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
18-Sept-Oct-2005
By: 
Paul Theroux
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-BlindingLightSlade Steadman has been living on the financial fumes of one great book for over 20 years. To combat this serious case of writer’s block, as well as his flagging mid-life libido, he carts his lover Ava off to the jungles of Ecuador in search of a pharmacological salve. With the help of a mysterious German, he finds his drug, but there’s a catch: while it spurs his creative energy, restores his prowess in bed, and offers him superhuman insight into people’s minds, it also causes temporary blindness. Steadman accepts the Faustian bargain and smuggles enough of the drug home to Martha’s Vineyard to finish his novel and test the limits of his new visions.
Houghton Mifflin. 438 pages. $26. ISBN: 0618418865

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"If it weren’t for the author’s blunt honesty, withering humor, pitch-perfect ear, unsentimental views of tribal life along shorelines from the Amazon to Martha’s Vineyard, Paul Theroux’s latest novel would be too much of a good thing." Betsy Willeford

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]his book stands in a tradition far more ancient than the novel, in which the journey of the central character is exemplary, an illustration of the consequences of right and wrong action. … The figure of the blind man, as a mythic and poetic archetype, resonates throughout." Hari Kunzru

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Despite all his trips abroad, Theroux is an American writer who knows all too well this nation’s love-hate relationship with feeling good. With that in mind, readers might anticipate the unraveling of Steadman’s Faustian bargain."
Stephen J. Lyons

Providence Journal 2.5 of 5 Stars
"… sex as truth, and all the toys that accompany it, strikes me as warmed-over D.H. Lawrence. Steadman does see differently eventually, but the sexual episodes, one piled upon the other, grow turgid and mechanical." Sam Coale

Seattle Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Theroux, while terrific on drug effects and shrewd on the select vineyard social circuit where Steadman is a player, never convinces you that there’s anything superior about Steadman’s mind. The guy is simply obnoxious, without enough wrinkles to his personality to keep him interesting for 438 pages." Michael Upchurch

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"As readers, we never imagine that [Steadman] is in peril; he is protected by the special dispensation that authors sometimes reserve for their alter egos. The writing conveys no ironic distance between hero and narrator, no hint that Steadman’s judgments differ from Theroux’s." Peter D. Kramer

Critical Summary

Theroux’s 26 books should eliminate him as the basis for Blinding Light’s blocked protagonist Slade Steadman, yet critics still compare the protagonist and his creator. Theroux and Steadman do share an eye for withering details, an intellectual interest in the nature of sexuality, fame, and the act of creation, and perhaps a taste for self-absorbed prose. Reviewers describe the novel as a Faustian fable and an exploration of the limits of sensuality. Yet the San Francisco Chronicle sees "no overriding moral lesson" at all. Whether 400-plus pages is too many for a modern novel, the book feels too big given its spindly plot. Many critics also quail at the book’s explicit sexuality, which verges on the pornographic. It’s a jungle of a book, one that tests patience as it enlightens, without a miracle drug in sight.