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Port Mungo: A Novel


Port Mungo: A Novel Cover



Author's Note

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.

Product Details

McGrath, Patrick
Vintage Contemporaries
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
1st U.S. paperback e
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date:
June 2005
Grade Level:
8.00x5.26x.68 in. .60 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Port Mungo: A Novel Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$13.00 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Vintage Contemporaries - English 9781400075485 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)
"Review A Day" by , "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." (read the entire Salon.com review)
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "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..."
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "McGrath tells this story of wrecked lives with stylish panache..."
"Review" by , "Taut with suspense and psychologically rich....A compelling read."
"Review" by , "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?"
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by , 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.
"Synopsis" by , 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.

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