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The Consul’s File (1978): The Axman Cometh

Paul Theroux, The Consul’s File (Ballantine, 1978)

[originally posted 5Dec2001]

A hot woman stands by a window looking out into the jungle on the book's cover.

There always has to be a hot woman on the cover, doesn’t there?
photo credit: Amazon

I know of Theroux through his wonderfully minimal little horror tale The Black House; seems most people know him for travel writing. This is something of which I was previously unaware, but I became well acquainted with it while reading this book, a loose collection of stories about the life of an American consul sent to Ayer Hitam (in Malaysia) to close down the consulate there. (As a side note, Ayer Hitam is now a forest preserve maintained by the University Putra Malaysia, and dropping by UPM’s website to take the photo tour lends a whole other perspective into reading this book.)

Theroux’s hapless protagonist spends his time cataloging the odd folks to be found in and passing through Ayer Hitam, and Theroux’s strength lies mostly in characterization. The population of Ayer Hitam (equal parts indigenous, Tamil, and Chinese, with a smattering of British expatriates) is the stories’ real focus, and a number of them come to life in the stories dedicated to them. Not terribly much actually goes on there, but these aren’t plot-driven stories anyway. Good stuff if you like character portraits, but if you’re looking for more of a plot, other Theroux works might be a better jumping-off point. ***

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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