Synopses & Reviews
Patrick McGrath is a writer of astonishing accomplishment: “fiction of a depth and power we hardly hope to encounter anymore,” according to Tobias Wolff, with “the drive and suspense of the most shameless thriller [and] the inevitability of myth.”
Port Mungo, his sixth novel, is a harrowing story of art and love, and of a family cursed by both. Throughout a privileged, eccentric childhood, Jack Rathbone enjoyed the constant adoration of his sister, Gin. So at art school in London, she is pained to see him fall under the spell of Vera Savage, a spectacularly bohemian painter with whom he soon runs off to New York City. From a bruised, bereft distance, Gin follows their southward progress through Miami and prerevolutionary Havana to Port Mungo, a seedy river town in the mangrove swamps along the Gulf of Honduras. Here Jack discovers himself as an artist, and begins to work with a fervor as intense as the restless, boozy waywardness to which Vera gradually succumbs, and which not even the births of two daughters can help to subdue.
Patrick McGrath’s mesmerizing narrative tracks these lives from the fifties in England to the nineties in Manhattan: the latter-day Gauguin; his buccaneering mate; the girls, Peg and Anna, left adrift in their wake; and Gin herself, their painstaking chronicler, whose house in Greenwich Village eventually becomes a haven for them all.
This feverish world of tropical impulses, artistic ambition, and love both reckless and enduring leads the Rathbones, ultimately, to a death swathed in mystery, and to another similarly bound in complicit secrecy, as the imperatives of passion, narcissism, and creativity hold each of them—and the reader—in relentless thrall.
"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.)
"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
"[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 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
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.