I’m currently reading “The Happy Isles of Oceania” by Paul Theroux. It’s considered maybe the best travel book by maybe the best travel writer; in it he visits 50 islands in the Pacific, including the biggest in the world (hint: it has kangaroos.) It’s hard to find fault with the scope: he kayaks and camps on islands both inhabited and empty. He’s Robinson Crusoe with an enormous bank account.
But I still don’t know what to think of Paul Theroux as a writer. I appreciate that he has embarked (it was written in the early 90’s) on such an adventurous tour (one that many of today’s travel bloggers wouldn’t even think of.) His prose is both minimal and descriptive–it’s very nice.
On the other hand, he seems to hate everywhere he goes (especially Australia), complains endlessly when the natives are too uppity to carry his luggage, bemoans his ex-wife, waxes poetical about a luxury suite, and nearly faints in fear when confronted by a drunken spectator.
There’s a real dichotomy about him that I can’t resolve. That said, I love his description of Kiwis.
“If you spoke about their well-maintained cities they said they were actually very disorderly. Tell them their mountains are high and snowy and they retorted that yours were higher and snowier. ‘New Zealanders are fitness fanatics,’ I said to a man. ‘That’s a myth,’ he said. ‘We’re very unhealthy as a nation. We’re poofs.’ If I said New Zealand seemed prosperous they claimed it was dying on its feet. Mention the multiracial aspect of the North Island and they said, “We hev ithnic unrist. There’ll be a blowup any munnit.”