In the “Notes from an author” slot in this month’s National Geographic Traveller (UK), Paul Theroux looks back on his first travel book, written half a century ago: The Great Railway Bazaar. On his journey through Asia, he writes:
I was often inconvenienced, sometimes threatened, now and then harassed for bribes, occasionally laid up with food poisoning — all of this vivid detail for my narrative. Most of all I was homesick, not the right mood for a traveller or a fit subject for a travel book; so I never mentioned it. On the contrary, I wrote about my trip as a spirited jaunt, and converted its loneliness into something self-mocking and jolly.
His follow-up, The Old Patagonian Express, for which he travelled the length of North and South America, has just been released in a new edition by the Folio Society. On its British publication in 1979, that book was serialised in The Sunday Telegraph, and reviewed in the same paper by Colin Thubron. He welcomed it with these words: “A new type of travel book has arrived. Its ancestors are not H V Morton or Lawrence Durrell, but Mark Twain and Alexander Kinglake, and its author, most typically, attempts less to immerse himself in a foreign culture than to submit to chance experiences and insights as he moves along his (usually harassed) way.” David Holloway, reviewing Theroux for The Daily Telegraph, argued that “it would be quite wrong to call The Old Patagonian Express a travel book. Even more than his earlier success, The Great Railway Bazaar, it is a travelling book.”