Figures in a Landscape

People and Places coverFigures in a Landscape: People and Places
Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 8, 2018), 415 pages
Kindle edition $15.99, Amazon hardcover $20.55

I have been reading Paul Theroux’s travel writing since he published The Great Railway Bazaar in the 1970’s. I have always loved his books on travel and when I would hear of a new travel book by Theroux I would snap it up. I have read a few of his novels as well, which I have also enjoyed.

I was, therefore, pleased to learn of the release of this title, and I purchased it right away. The subtitle, People and Places, however, should have been a clue for me. This book of selected essays is much more about people than about places. Theroux profiles Muriel Spark, Somerset Maugham, Paul Bowles, Elizabeth Taylor (and her love for Michael Jackson), as well as others. There is some autobiographical writing about his family at the end of the book, which I found singularly uninspiring.

There is some travel writing in this book, but not a lot. One essay sharply describes how the West has done more harm than good to Africa by sending in teachers and doctors (Theroux himself was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960’s), and how Africans have exploited that by sending their own to be educated and to work here in the West. He includes two essays about a pair of rather tawdry, sleazy events in his own life. Then there is the essay (I remember when it first appeared in the New Yorker) about the professional life of a dominatrix.

If you are a Theroux fan you might enjoy this book. If you are new to Theroux this is not the place to start. Check out The Great Railway Bazaar or The Pillars of Hercules instead.

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