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My Secret History by Paul Theroux
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My Secret History (1989)

by Paul Theroux

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Showing 3 of 3
excellent growing up, Medford Peace corps, London, cape
- Secret lies in letting go of things

The story of Andre Parent, a writer, a world traveller, a lover of every kind of woman he chances to meet in a life as varied as a man can lead. It begins with his days as a Massachusetts altar boy, when his first furtive sexual encounter introduces him to the thrills of leading a double life. As a teenaged lifeguard, Andre finds himself caught between the attentions of a beautiful young student and an amorous older woman. Soon he is in Africa, where the local women are numerous, easy, and free. And as the boy becomes a man he turns his attention to writing, which brings him fame, and a wife, who may finally cause him to know himself. But not before he sets up his most dangerous secret life, one that any man might envy, but that could cost Andre Parent the delicate balance that makes him who he is.
  christinejoseph | Nov 17, 2015 |
Reading this book made me dislike Paul Theroux, something I eventually got over. I was horrified by how the main character took his wife and, later, girlfriend to all the same places on the same tour. Maybe that's just me. ( )
  AnnB2013 | Mar 14, 2013 |
The prequal to his acclaimed *My Other Life*, *My Secret History* is also a masterful work of narrative and characterization, imbued with grace, humor, and humanity. It demonstrates a young man's coming-of-age stuggles more astutely than any book I've read.

The first section, dealing with the semi-autobiographical narrator's youth, is a satisfying read. Then the protagonist grows up. He becomes a dull, selfish, philanderer, and the tone of the writing itself seems more plodding as well. Theroux's narrator is a womanizer, which is forgiveable, but unfortunately he's also a supercilious bore, which is not. was angry with his dismissive attitude of women - "anything I want" - and later, his too soon forgiving wife. Women seemed ornaments to him - as were many characters and even locations in this novel - richly described, but only in terms of their utility to him. When no longer needed, the strongest of women looked weak - particulary Eve.

Theroux is a gifted writer and, despite these misgivings, I found this book very hard to put down. I think I'll have to go back and reread the sequel. ( )
1 vote Jawin | Jun 24, 2007 |
Showing 3 of 3
As always with Theroux, swiftly told--and with some stunning psychological revelations, and some riotous comedy, too; but, finally, it all adds up to more of a personal exorcism than a formed fiction, a slide-show with a few breathtaking shots scattered amongst many more that may well fascinate only the author.
added by John_Vaughan | editKirkus (Jul 21, 1998)
 
'My Secret History'' is very different from any previous Paul Theroux work. For one thing, it merges the two genres he's famous for -novels and travel writing - by giving us a first-person novel that consists mainly of the narrator's travels. Yet for every cheerful, world-revealing, extroverted incident in the previously published travelogues, Mr. Theroux here gives us the darker personal background: the Peace Corps teacher sleeping with an endless series of teen-age African girls, the traveler cuckolded by his temporarily abandoned wife, the famous writer who sets up two identical households with a devoted woman (one wife, one mistress) in each. In the vocabulary of this novel, ''secret'' mainly means ''sexual.''
added by SnootyBaronet | editNY Times, Wendy Lesser (Jul 19, 1989)
 
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Epigraph
Into my heart an air that kills

  From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

  What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

  I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

  And cannot come again.

    - A. E. Housman
Dedication
First words
I was born poor in rich America, yet my secret instincts were better than money and were for me a source of pawer.
AUTHOR’S NOTE

Although some of the events and places depicted in this novel bear a similarity to those in my own life, the characters all strolled out of my imagination.
Quotations
With a name like the Maldwyn Country Club I knew it had to be one of these fake-English places with a look that said Keep Out. I was right, and the reason for the Englishness was that it was all Armenians.
Walking up the long driveway to my lifeguard interview, I thought: No girlfriend, no car, no money, no job—nothing except funerals dragging past in a procession in my soul, and sorrowing hopes, and the tyrant Pain planting his black flag in my skull. I had been reading Baudelaire on the bus.
“So what do you think of Henry Miller?” He had seen my book.
“He’s good. He’s funny,” I said. “He’s got a great vocabulary.”
The man smiled. “He employs sesquipedalian verbiage,” he said, and eased the meatballs into the bread with the heel of the ladle.
I was fascinated that a drunken Italian in a paper hat would say something like this.
“But his best books are banned because of our procrustean laws,” he said. “Know what I mean?” “Something like procrastinate?”
He shook his head—no. He was spooning chopped onions and tomatoes.
“Procrustes was a robber in Greek legend who had an iron bed. It was a certain size. He made people lie on it and if they were too tall for it he cut their legs off. If they were too short he stretched them to fit the bed. Procrustean. It means ruthlessly inflexible.”
“What if they were the right size—what if they fit?”
“No one ever fits,” the man said, and handed me my meatball sub. “He was killed by Theseus. You owe me thirty-five cents.” ... That night I wrote a Henry Miller letter to the Maldwyn Country Club and used the word “procrustean” in it.
I did most of my reading at the pool—all these fucken women writers, Muzzaroll said, seeing Evelyn Waugh, Caryl Chessman and Rainer Maria Rilke. Muzzaroll was proud that he had never read a book by a woman. “Joyce Cary!” he screamed one day. Another fucken woman.
The men were petrified and silent—afraid to do anything because they would reveal the extent of their fear. And the thing was a water pistol I had taken from Jack’s toy box. I held it half inside my sleeve. Just an hour before, in the rain, I had pissed into it, dribbling into the small hole.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0449912000, Paperback)

Brilliantly written, erotically charged, My Secret History is Paul Theroux's tour de force. It is the story of Andre Parent, a writer, a world traveller, a lover of every kind of woman he chances to meet in a life as varied as a man can lead.

It begins with his days as a Massachusetts altar boy, when his first furtive sexual encounter introduces him to the thrills of leading a double life. As a teenaged lifeguard, Andre finds himself caught between the attentions of a beautiful young student and an amorous older woman. Soon he is in Africa, where the local women are numerous, easy, and free. And as the boy becomes a man he turns his attention to writing, which brings him fame, and a wife, who may finally cause him to know himself.

But not before he sets up his most dangerous secret life, one that any man might envy, but that could cost Andre Parent the delicate balance that makes him who he is.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:04 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Presented in a series of six parts this book written by the same author as the Whitbread Prize-winner Picture Palace, The Mosquito Coast and Riding the Iron Rooster, traces the life of Andre Parent from his teenage days in Boston up until the present day.

» see all 5 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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