Review: The Lower River – Paul Theroux

The Lower RiverIts a long time since I read a new novel by Paul Theroux. Most of his more well-known books were written in the 1980s and 90s (see Wikipedia list here) and I remember them as being very high quality reading experiences although I found his later work less satisfying.

This year we’ve got a new novel from Theroux, The Lower River, and I’m pleased to say its a welcome return to form.

Some of Theroux’s novels are semi-autobiographical and when he writes about Africa, as he does in The Lower River, his writing has an authority born of personal experience.  As a young man he joined the Peace Corps and went to teach in Malawi.  After a controversial time there he moved to Uganda and taught at Makere University where he began a long-term friendship and working friendship with V S Naipul, with whom he had a much publicised falling-out when Theroux published his book Sir Vidia’s Shadow in 1998.

Theroux came to have a pessimistic view of Africa and this colours his work.  The Lower River is no exception. In the book we read of Ellis Hock, a 63 year old owner of a clothing store in suburb of Boston. As a young mand, Ellis had, like Theroux worked as a Peace Corps teacher in a school he helped build in Malawi.  He had stayed on for longer than his expected term of service and had formed a relationship with Gala, a local teacher.  When he eventually returned to America he took over his father’s clothing business, married and had a daughter.
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