The Rum Diary is the late, great and awesome Hunter S. Thompson’s tale of the rum-soaked existence and adventures of a young American journalist, Paul Kemp, in late 1950’s Puerto Rico. There are really two main characters in this story, alcohol and Paul Kemp. Booze is utterly pervasive, with the novel opening and closing on a drink-related note, and being omnipresent throughout.
When we first meet Paul Kemp, he is a drunken and very likeable character. He always seems to have his wits about him, in a chaotic world that surely is a difficult one to navigate, which is very impressive given his constant imbibing of booze. Perhaps rum was really an anesthetic for him, but I suspect maybe also for him, and the rest of the characters, it was a way of suppressing the probably sub-conscious realization that they were drifting away or wasting their lives – surely the constant dreaming and ridiculously hopeful planning was evidence of this realization.
Anyhow, the plot mostly consists of Kemp and his partners-in-crime (so to speak) traipsing around Puerto Rico, while holding down tenuous positions in a local newspaper. Kemp also, apparently, has a crush on Chenault, a buddies’ girlfriend. Kemp solely seems to be the one character capable and willing to improve his lot in live, and makes drunken efforts to do so. He’s up against it though, as the drunken escapades of he and his buddies gradually spiral “out of control”, eventually reaching a point of no return for all involved. That’s it really – short, sharp, sweet and sexy!
While its a very relaxing read, and you can literally feel the 1950’s heat, sweat, aroma and rum of Puerto Rico seeping through the pages, I do have one minor, yet annoying gripe. As I mentioned earlier, we are led to believe that Paul has a crush on Chenault. This is not a very convincing supposition unfortunately, and its a weak-point in the novel for me, especially as its meant to be a motivational item for Paul. Paul spots the back of her head one day, and hilarious airplane sequence aside, we are meant to believe he has “the hots” for her ever since. But more worryingly, is that Hunter always depicts Chenault, or rather Paul’s perception of Chenault, in a stone-cold manner. He has no problem with her being slapped around, doesn’t seem to give a damn when certain ominous incidents happen, yet we are to believe that its a love match of sorts? Unlikely, in all fairness.
That aside, I would definitely recommend this – Gonzo is the true voice of his generation, and this is a very enjoyable read. I read this on a beach in the sun, and I swear that it inspired me to drink rum with ice while doing so! Case closed…