Monday, June 03, 2013

The Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux

The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean, Paul Theroux.  New York: Ballantine Books/ The Random House Publishing Group, 1995.  e-book, 491 pps.

I am a fan of Paul Theroux.  We have two things in common.  I love to travel and I love trains.  Theroux has logged many more miles than I have in many more places than I've been.  There is something to settling in on a comfy chair or beach towel with a Paul Theroux in hand and several hours devoted just to reading.  A few critics will tell you that Paul Theroux dares to criticize the people and places that he haps upon.  I myself much prefer his honesty to the sugar-coated guidebooks that always endeavor to organize narratives into grand unrealistic symphonies.  Because life isn't really like that.  There will always be petty people, rip-off artists, wars, squalor, and dirt.  Tucked away behind the glittering hotels and the slick brochures are glimpses into meanness.  Certainly, the tourists at Gibralter assaulting the primates there are forgetful that we all share a common ancestor.  There is a certain messiness to travel and for depicting the messes, I've become fond of Theroux's writing.

The Pillars of Hercules is about traveling in the Mediterranean.  I liked the grit.  It was refreshing to read about the litter on the beaches in the winter, the wastelands that are the souvenirs of wartime, and the crappy food on the Turkish cruise ship.  I also liked the way that Theroux painted the various fellow travelers that he happened upon along the way-- the Turks on that same ship making music, the fellow who worried that he would never find a woman to settle down with, the train passengers who might have been pleasant to spend time with or not so pleasant.  All of it engaged me.  

sapphoq reviews says:  If you like travel writing with a difference and you don't mind longish books, there is something in The Pillars of Hercules for you.  A bit of political commentary and a lot of literary references await you.  It was through Paul Theroux that I've discovered other great works of literature imbued with a sense of place.  The Pillars of Hercules is not for those who prefer their travel writing to be typical and devoid of the author's commentary.  Highly recommended for folks who enjoy some intellectual along with their travel narratives.   

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