Book Review: The rum diary by Hunter S. Thompson

the rum diary

I want to start off by saying that this is one of those books that is geared specifically towards an intended audience. Hunter S. Thompson was twenty-two years old when he wrote this, which, coincidentally, is my age right now. I don’t doubt that that’s the reason why the book spoke to me.

Paul Kemp, the protagonist and narrator of the story, goes to Puerto Rico in search of money and status. He gets a job in a sinking newspaper and, like everyone else, hardly works at all and gets loads of money to drink rum, party, and hook up with girls. There is no plot to this story, or almost none, but that’s all right because it’s written in a very realistic way—as in trying to mirror real life rather than make real life into a novel. I dug it, but I’m sure other people won’t.

What Paul Kemp struggles against are two main things:

1) Getting old

2) Selling out

Not so surprisingly, these are the things that most people in their early twenties (and I don’t exclude myself) struggle against.

We are afraid of getting old because we enjoy being young so much that we are afraid of what the future might hold for us once we’re not so energetic and buoyant. We want to make money (come on, just admit it)and make something of ourselves, but we don’t want to sacrifice our dreams or principles or ideals to do it. We are forever being stretched in two ways, and someday, one part of us will have to yield.

This is a slow book, not erratic and fast-paced like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s more mellow, less violent, more reflective. But overall, I liked the change in pace.

Of course the ending offers no solution to these worries. It ends with an impending feeling of quiet desperation. There is, after all, no solution to getting old. We don’t know what will happen. Most of us in our early twenties—and I know this because I have asked other people my age and they feel the same way—are anxious and worried and even sort of desperate to know what the future will bring, but also afraid of those infernal clocks ticking away, leering at us from not so far away.

Getting old can’t be that bad, I know. But somedays, the unknown just stares us in the face, and we don’t have the strength to stare back, at least not now. Selling out, however, does have a solution. You either do or you don’t, and only you can decide that.

The characters were all right, nothing very striking or memorable about them. The setting was vividly described, though, and Thompson does a good job at capturing what Puerto Rico in the late 1950’s was all about (or so I believe).

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a quick but reflective read and who enjoys Thompson’s books in general.

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