Picks and Pans Review: My Other Life
It's a striking conceit: The central character in Paul Theroux's latest novel is a novelist named Paul Theroux. And while the fictional Theroux shares the author's various addresses and literary achievements, his marital woes and his studiously dyspeptic personality, the adventures he describes—many of which involve familiar, living people—are purely imaginary.
This is "the story of a life I could have lived," Theroux writes, "had things been different." Thus, the 19 chapters of this imaginary memoir serve as a travelogue of roads not taken.
It's a gripping, often wonderful journey. In pages that take him from a sultry visit to an African leper colony to a chilling encounter with a manipulative London patron named Lady Max, from the agonizing dissolution of his marriage to a hilarious and oddly mystical encounter with the Queen, Theroux's imagined past is alternately comic and tragic, gentle and brutal. Liberated from the facts, he is free to explore deeper truths: the nature of creativity and the paradoxes that can make fantasy more honest than reality. "The man is fiction," Theroux writes of his alter ego. "But the mask is real." (Houghton Mifflin, $24.95)"