Paul Theroux has something about darkness. His new novel's chief metaphor, the blindness that grants his writer-hero a kind of numinous insight into his fellows, is worked over with such relish from start to finish that one suspects the fixation to belong not to the hero but to his author. (I remember also, perhaps unfairly, that this is the novelist who, when he lived in London, wore photochromic spectacles years before they were fashionable " the sun came out, Theroux went dark " and who once described the writing life obscurely as 'thrashing around in inspissated darkness'.) Thick, deep darkness abounds in Blinding Light, to the author's obvious satisfaction, from the passengers' sleep masks on a 'glary one- class night flight' in its opening lines to the 'Night had fallen, burying him' that begins its penultimate paragraph.
Between these states of the night are blindfolds, unconsciousness, coma, real and phony blindness, stones on eyelids, couplings in the dark, and an erotic fixation with blindness that surprisingly is allowed to take over the book's motive power. In a sense, whether you will enjoy this novel depends on whether you share its author's erotic interests. It has not always, but often, been thus with Paul Theroux.
Blinding Light starts promisingly. Theroux's prose is as irritable as ever: on a journey to the far east of Ecuador his hero Slade Steadman, a best-selling travel writer both snobbish and waspish, is like an irascible chipmunk running around taking sharp little bites out of the human jungle. Steadman's voice is uncannily similar to Theroux's own in works like The Happy Islea of Oceania and The Old Patagonian Express, full of Theroux's trademark comic contempt when describing anyone hapless enough to find themselves in his way.
Steadman has known early success with a book called Trespassing, which, along with its merchandising, has made him rich. …