Figures in a Landscape: People & Places

Houghton Harcourt. May 2018. 416p. ISBN 9780544870307. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780544866669. LIT
Prolific novelist and nonfiction writer Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar) presents 30 pieces written in this century that were originally published in the New York Times and Smithsonian, among others, as well as introductions to books. As the subtitle indicates, the essays are profiles of literary figures (e.g., Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad) as well as public celebrities (e.g., Liz Taylor and Robin Williams). Theroux also offers impressions of places he has visited (Africa, Alabama) and lived in (Hawaii). Some of the selections are much too long, including a New Yorker piece on a dominatrix. Other entries are rather ultracritical of authors with whom Theroux has issues; he takes to task E.B. White owing to White's seeming lack of knowledge on raising geese (Theroux himself has done this and is an expert on the topic). The best selections offer great insights into who Theroux feels are unjustly neglected authors such as Belgian writer Georges Simenon. In a moving piece, the author remembers his late father.
VERDICT For all fans of the author's ways of looking at life and literature. [See Prepub Alert, 11/12/17.]
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