Of all the traits in a traveler, grumpiness is probably the least helpful and the most entertaining. That’s what Paul Theroux is: the ultimate grumpy traveller. He growls his way across continents, provoking people into religious and political arguments, tearing tourists to pieces (not literally), and all around being grouchy.
I wouldn’t like to meet him, because I’m afraid he wouldn’t like me, and I know what he does to people he doesn’t like: stick them in books. But he’s a wonderful travel writer.
He’s also got that old-school, man alone toughness evident all through this book. He calmly and factually relates being stung by enourmous jellyfish, which somehow got tangled in his kayak oar as he wandered the Pacific. He talks about the villages he stops in, where he gets to know and like the people, and the villages he gets through as quickly as possible, filled with irritation at modernity.
He even has a go at being a beachcomber living on a deserted island, one of those things that everyone wonders about from time to time.
One final trait that comes out loud and proud in this particular book: he’s an old-school lion of a liberal. Integration is good, religious intolerance is grotesque–as is the missionary impulse–and modernity gets us further away from community.