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Port Mungo: A Novelby Patrick McGrath
"The story of Gin and her rangy, charismatic brother Jack, a tormented painter she believes to be a genius (and whom we suspect, quite early on, may be something quite different), is not perhaps as harrowing as the dark psychological sagas of McGrath's earlier novels. But it's a rough enough ride on its own terms, and Port Mungo is an enthralling and eventful yarn, fueled by sex and family secrets....[A] mesmerizing tropical tale with unforgettable characters, and an intriguing new direction for this supremely talented novelist." Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
In a seedy river town on the Gulf of Honduras, Jack Rathbone believed he had found a place that would give him and his lover, the accomplished artist Vera Savage, the solitude they would need to create a body of work that would shake the art world to its core. But in a place where time lies thicker than the mangrove swamps that surround it, Jack and Vera discover an emotional frontier more fearsome, untamed, and dangerous than any wilderness.
Told through the voice of Jack's adoring sister, Gin, Port Mungo is the riveting story of this ill-fated couple, one that begins as a bohemian flight-of-fancy before unraveling into a dark, debauched, and sinister tale. With Port Mungo, the incomparable Patrick McGrath, author of the acclaimed novels Spider and Asylum, delivers a spellbinding narrative to explore the obsessive pursuit of art and love.
"The psychologically suspenseful story of Jack Rathbone, a 'latter-day Gauguin' who flees his native England to pursue a career as a painter as well as a volatile relationship with artist Vera Savage, is narrated by his sister, Gin, whose obvious devotion skews her perspective. McGrath's sixth novel unfolds in a series of flashbacks, from Jack's childhood in England to Greenwich Village in the 1950s and, eventually, to the Honduran town of Port Mungo, where Jack develops a style he calls 'tropicalism' or, more sinisterly, 'malarial.' The birth of daughter Peg threatens the marriage, and her mysterious death, at 16, dooms it; Jack moves in with his sister in New York. Ostensibly, the search for the truth behind Peg's death propels the narrative, but the mix of flashbacks and present action is confusing, and Gin's role feels trumped up. The book becomes even more baroque when Jack's second daughter, raised in England, moves to New York and agrees to let her father paint her, in the nude. It's a provocative conceit, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts. Despite McGrath's intelligent, lyrical prose, the story lacks the urgency of his earlier work. Agent, Amanda Urban. (June) Forecast: McGrath should please fans with this return to gothic suspense after his historical novel Martha Peake, but it's unlikely this will be a breakout novel. 60,000 first printing; six-city author tour." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[W]atching the tragedy of the Rathbones laid bare makes for exciting reading, and although McGrath's gothic airs work better in historical settings, he succeeds in creating a convincingly twisted family here." Kristine Huntley, Booklist
"The shifting narrative sands of Port Mungo seem more artfully contrived than in McGrath's previous work, and more intricately bound up with the larger questions that he is floating here....[An] immensely clever and tautly composed novel..." Christopher Benfey, The New York Times Book Review
"[A] series of shocking dénouements show us the extent of Gin's delusions about her brother and, in McGrath's virtuosic handling, make for a compelling piece of family Gothic." The New Yorker
"McGrath's latest is more contemplative than such turbulent tales as Asylum....Dark brooding over dusty secrets in what's far from McGrath's best." Kirkus Reviews
"McGrath tells this story of wrecked lives with stylish panache..." The Washington Post
"Taut with suspense and psychologically rich....A compelling read." The Seattle Times
"Superb....There is no end of mysteries....In his shimmering way, McGrath pulls back the curtain on a terrible one and says, 'Look!' When he brings you to that place so adroitly, who can say no?" Time
"Powerful....Haunting....Utterly gripping....McGrath deftly crafts [Port Mungo] into a sophisticated psychological exploration of the darker sides of memory, secrecy, desire and guilt....Brace yourself for an enthralling read." Rocky Mountain News
By a novelist of astonishing accomplishment — "fiction of a depth and power we hardly hope to encounter anymore" (Tobias Wolff) — comes a story of art and love, and a family cursed by both.
During their privileged, eccentric English childhood, Jack Rathbone enjoyed the unstinting adoration of his sister, Gin. So when both are art students in London, it is wrenching for her to watch him fall under the spell of Vera Savage, a flamboyant and reckless painter from Glasgow.
Jack and Vera run off to New York City within weeks of meeting, and from a bruised, bereft distance Gin follows their progress south through Miami and pre-revolutionary Havana to Port Mungo, a seedy town in the mangrove swamps of Honduras. There, in an old banana warehouse, Jack obsessively devotes himself to his canvases while Vera succumbs to a chronic restlessness that not even the birth of two daughters can subdue.
Gin is the far-from-objective chronicler of these lives, across decades and continents. Over the years her Greenwich Village house becomes a haven for Jack, for his buccaneering mate, and for Peg and Anna, the two girls left to bob in their chaotic wake.
Passion, narcissism, and the relentless demands of creativity hold these riveting characters in thrall, and McGrath skilfully evokes a feverish world of tropical impulses and artistic ambition that leads ultimately to dark secrets and to death.
About the Author
Patrick McGrath was born in London. He is the author of Blood and Water and Other Stories, The Grotesque, Spider, Dr. Haggard's Disease, and Asylum, and is the co-editor, with Bradford Morrow, of The New Gothic. He lives in New York City and London and is married to the actress Maria Aitken.
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