Travel literature review: Sunrise with Seamonsters

Sunrise with Seamonsters by Paul Theroux

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Theodora Manassieva

I give the first words to Theroux: 'Travel has less to do with distance than with insight; it is, very often, a way of seeing.' In his collection of essays, Sunrise with Seamonsters, Paul Theroux does just that: he observes.

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Sunrise is a collection of short writings, sketches and critical essays that encompass twenty years of Theroux’s 'travels and discoveries'; musings that have fallen outside of the scope of the author’s other well-known works such as The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express. Arranged in chronological order, the reader journeys through a multitude of unexpected territories – Myanmar (Burma), Corsica, Afghanistan, and Malawi, amongst many others – and encounters an array of memorable characters along the way before the final essay brings the book to its close.

The book opens with compositions written in the 1960s that detail Theroux’s experiences during his sojourn in Africa. The earlier pieces have the rudimentary quality of writing issued from the pen of a young man (Theroux was twenty-two, twenty-three when he started writing them): the language is both frank and lyrical, imbued with a sense of sheer curiosity. The later writings, on the other hand, are reflections formed by a more mature perspective. They have a tone of greater self-assuredness (though Theroux’s inquisitive nature and candid opinions do not falter) and a sense of stylistic comfort; he captures his thoughts with greater ease.

What becomes evident whilst reading Sunrise, and as his writings reflect, is that life simultaneously envelops and forces Theroux to occupy liminal spaces. He is forced to make conclusions about people and society that are, at times, unpalatable. More importantly perhaps, such realisations have forced Theroux - by his own admission - to confront unpleasant truths. As such, his observations are a mixture of critical analyses, humour and pathos, the brevity of which do not detract from the significance of what he relates.

Sunrise depicts fragments of life from extraordinary places, which have been framed by Theroux’s wit, compassion and humanity. Paul Theroux once again proves himself an informed expositor and a master raconteur on life as he experiences it. Sunrise with Seamonsters is at once thought provoking, captivating, never dreary and, most importantly, always insightful.

Theodora Manassieva was born in Bulgaria, but moved to the UK at a young age. She graduated in English and American Literature at the University of Warwick, and started work at Lonely Planet a mere six months ago. Avid reader, movie-goer, corrector of bad spelling and grammar, and traveller (I take every opportunity to leave British soil).

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