Nowhere Man

The Lower River
Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, 336 pp.

The writing career of Paul Theroux—twenty-some novels, countless short stories, and many books of travel—now spans four decades and shows no signs of slowing down. Theroux’s travel books, beginning with the highly successful Great Railway Bazaar (1975) and featuring most recently a return trip (Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, 2008), add up to a distinctive achievement in that genre. By contrast his novels seem to have been overshadowed, not taken with full seriousness. Early on, in one seven-year stretch, he produced such rereadable ones as The Black House, Picture Palace, and The Family Arsenal, peaking with The Mosquito Coast, his best-selling (though not his best) novel. Since then he has written novels that perhaps have not always inspired readers to keep up: a weird venture into sci-fi (O-Zone); a scarifying look at a sexual misfit/killer (Chicago Loop); and two longish episodic “personal” ventures, My Other Life and My Secret History, which for all their lively parts didn’t quite come off. Increasingly the novels have been set in non-Anglo-American habitats: Hawaii (Hotel Honolulu); Hong Kong (Kowloon Tong); Ecuador (Blinding Light); India (The Elephanta Suite, The Dead Hand), and now Africa. The Lower River is both a revisiting and probably a farewell to that continent, specifically to Malawi, where two of his...

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About the Author

William H. Pritchard is the Henry Clay Folger Professor of English at Amherst College. He is the author of Shelf Life: Literary Essays and Reviews (University of Massachusetts Press) among others.