Monday, 17 August 2009

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

My friend Rory reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary which I recall reading not long after it came out in 1998, although it was actually written in 1958 but was left unpublished for four decades before Thompson finally released it.

It was worth the reappraisal of a re-read. Thompson’s prose hadn’t sharpened up to the Gonzo craziness of his Fear And Loathing period, but it’s still brilliantly written. The story is narrated by Paul Kemp, a thirty year old ‘vagrant journalist’ who has taken a job on at a failing English language paper in Puerto Rico. He falls in with the unpredictable and violent Yeamon and his beguiling girlfriend, Chenault, who leaves him stewing in his own lust.

As the title suggests, alcohol plays a big part in the novel and it courses through the pages, each drunken outrage soaked up the next day with beer at breakfast and then bottle after bottle of rum. When Sala, the staff photographer on the paper, claims he feels like he’s one hundred years old at thirty, I could feel the three day hangover.

The frustration of an aimless life spent in the sapping heat is palpable:

The only way to whip it was to hang on until dusk and banish the ghosts with rum. Often it was easier not to wait, so the drinking would begin at noon. It didn’t help much, as I recall, except that sometimes it made the day go a little faster.

It’s a sozzled minor masterpiece that comes down to earth in the end with a hell of a bump, as always happens with rum...


  1. Alex here.
    Just like to say that after reading a couple of the 'Fear and Loathing's I already have a great respect for Hunter's work.
    This one is on my 'to read' list, alongside the Hell's Angels book also.

  2. I read 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' about ten years ago and can recall the list of drugs that they buy for the trip taking up a whole page... I've not managed to read Hell's Angels, but its on my 'to read' list as well.

  3. I was bought a copy of this as a leaving present ten years ago and have never got round to reading it but you've convinced me. I really want to read a juicy Hunter biog but his own one looks a bit dull (tons of political ranting and fantastical stuff). Anyone know of a good one?

  4. I've not picked up a biography yet, but I'd reckon that HST's knack for self mythology would make anything he wrote himself hard work. I'll post again if I find one!