The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson
Before starting this book, I didn’t claim to know very much about Hunter S. Thompson. I knew he was an eccentric alcoholic drug addicted journalist with a cult following. I knew a very bizzaro movie was made from one of his novels Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I knew that he invented what is termed as Gonzo Journalism, a highly subjective and extremely personal form of reporting in which the writer uses a stream of consciousness approach to his writing often using quotes, exaggerations, and profanity. Feeling the urge for something different and having never read Thompson, I was curious as to what all the fuss was about, and anyways, I’ve always been a sucka for rebels, with or without a cause.
The book was started in 1959 by Thompson when he was twenty two and working as journalist for an American paper in San Juan. Tagged as a “a brilliantly tangled love story of jealousy, treachery & violent alcoholic lust in the Caribbean boomtown that was San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the late 1950s”, the Rum Diary doesn’t disappoint. “In Paul Kemp, the novel’s hero, there are echoes of the young Thompson, who was himself honing his wildly musical writing style as one of the “ill-tempered wandering rabble on staff at the San Juan Daily News at the time”. The transitions were rough and the pace was quick and skiddish but I was enjoying it, feeling a little like I was riding a roller coaster gone awry and just when I was ready to get off, I came across this:
“I shared a dark suspicion,” Kemp says, “that the life we were leading was a lost cause, we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles — a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other — that kept me going.”
“Happy, ” I muttered, trying to pint he word down. But it is one of those words, like love, that I have never quite understood. Most people who deal in words don’t have much faith in them and I am no exception – especially the big ones like Happy and Love and Honest and Strong. They are too elusive and far too relative when you compare them to sharp, means little words like Punk and Cheap and Phony. I feel at home with these, because they’re scrawny and easy to pin, but the big ones are tough and it takes either a priest of a fool to use them with any confidence.”
^^^Nice. Like little jewels buried in all the sandy grit.
Along with Kemp are a few other memorable characters, notably Addison Fitz Yeamon, a young journalist “the wanderer, crazy and antagonistic” and his beautiful girlfriend Chenault. Much of the book is centered on Kemp’s involvement with Yeamon, who is both charismatic and maniacal all at once.
“Yeamon was familiar too…He was probably twenty-four or five and he reminded me of myself at that age – not exactly the way I was, but the way I might have seen myself if I had stpooed to think about it. Listening to him I realized how long it had been since I’d flet like I had the world by the balls, how many quick birthdays had gone by since that first year in Europe when I was so ignorant and so confident that every splinter of luck made me feel like a roaring champion.
I hadn’t felt that way in a long time. Perhaps in the ambush of those years, the idea that I was a champion had been shot out from under me. But I remembered it now and it made me feel old and slightly nervous that I had done so little in so long a time.”
Kemp and Yaemon Trollope through the book, sometimes with Chenault along for the ride, consuming sick amounts of booze and rarely making it out of a chapter without at least one violent altercation. In the second half of the book the plot seems to steady itself and comes to a climax when the three of them spend a few inebriated days at carnival in St. Thomas.
The book is dark and deep and ironically sobering. To be shown the dark side of human nature and deciding not to run, but to revel in it without apology, I think that’s what makes Thompson so special, so different.
There has been a buzz for a while about The Rum Diary being made into a film starring Johnnie Depp As Kemp, Benecio del Toro as Sala, and Josh Hartnett as the young and dangerous Addison Yeamon. Sounds promising, although I will admit that I’d be happy to watch Josh Hartnett do just about anything for as long as I’m allowed. Hopefully, the film will come to fruition and become another cult classic like Fear and Loathing.
Speaking of cults, in researching this book I came across a fan site devoted to HST, with a section entitled tattoos. Lookit.
^^Those are kinda cool, right? Then there are these.
^^^Whoa. Now that’s dedication.