Slade Steadman's lone opus, published twenty years ago, was Trespassing, a cult classic about his travels through dozens of countries without benefit of passport. With his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Ava in tow, Steadman sets out for Ecuador’s jungle in search of a rare hallucinogenic drug and the cure for his writer’s block. Amid a gang of thrill-seeking tourists, he finds his drug and his inspiration but is beset with an unnerving side effect--periodic blindness. His world is altered profoundly: Ava stays by his side, he writes an erotic, autobiographical novel with the drug serving as muse, and he returns to stardom. Steadman becomes addicted to the drug and the insights it provides, only to have them desert him, along with his sight. Will he regain his vision? His visions? Or will he forgo the world of his imagining and his ambition? As Theroux leads us toward the answers, he makes fresh magic out of the venerable intertwined themes of sight and insight. He also offers incisive, sometimes hilarious takes on the manifold ironies of travel, of trespass and trangession, and of the trappings of the writer’s life--from the fear of the blank page to the unexpected challenges of the book tour.
Blinding Light fails to dazzle, or even illuminate.
The book starts out with scenes of Slade, a travel writer who, through the popularity of his best-selling book and related lines of "adventure" clothing and accessories, is experiencing a hell of his own devising. Theroux's sketches of Slade's fellow travellers are so on-target that I had to laugh out loud a number of times. But Theroux then veers off into other territory.
The parallels in the book between the main character (Slade) and Bill Clinton are revealing. The lie that is at the heart of Slade's recent best-seller comes back to haunt him, in more ways than one.
In this book, as in his others, Theroux proves a master of subtle description. As he is describing people and places they vividly come alive. His descriptions of Manfred, the German journalist/ethnobotanist, are especially sharp, and I can only imagine that Theroux has known people like Manfred in close quarters.
I have to say I enjoyed the other books more, though this one was compelling and I had a hard time putting it down.