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Port Mungo: A Novelby Patrick McGrath
The story of Jack Rathbone and Vera Savage grew out of a longtime interest in the romantic figure of the brilliant but dissolute artist. I began with a painter, a man of excessive appetites who leaves a trail of destruction behind him wherever he goes. I soon realized he was little more than a walking cliche, however, so I turned him into a woman. Things at once became more interesting. Soon the question arose, what kind of a mother would such a woman make? This turned into the thematic core of the book. It took the form of a kind of intense dialogue between creativity, narcissism, indulgence and responsibility.
I was interested at the same time in putting my characters in a tropical setting. I wanted to see the two painters against a Caribbean backdrop, both for the vividness and exoticism of it all, and also to allow them to self-destruct far from the constraints of the homeland and the city. For this purpose I invented Port Mungo, a seedy river town "wilting and steaming in the mangrove swamps of the Gulf of Honduras." Part of the novel concerns the eventful journey from London to Port Mungo. Part of it concerns what happens there. And part concerns the repercussions of those events, as they work themselves out much later in New York.
I took for my narrator a woman called Gin Rathbone, sister of Jack. This gave me the chance to create a further strand in the book, in that I was able to explore, even as the story rolled forward, the complicated geography of a close brother-sister relationship. In its way that relationship turned out every bit as steamy and mysterious as Port Mungo itself.
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