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on 29 April 2005
For your next beach holiday, forget your suntan lotion + order this. There is enough sun, sand + Caribbean rum in this novel to keep you going through the winter.
You may have heard of Thompson's "FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS" which was made into a film with Johnny Depp + Benicio Del Toro in 1998. This, Thompson's first novel, bares some similarities, although the drug intake is a little tamer + the general feel of the book is a little more laidback.
It chronicles the drunken antics of budding journalist Paul Kemp during the late 50s in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Kemp is a thinly disguised Thompson, (the novel being very close to autobiographical), who starts work for the San Juan Daily News, a paper which is constantly on the brink of bankruptcy due to its corrupt, degenerate + drug addled staff.
It is because of the town's gradual intake of American greedmongers + social misfits that there is a growing sense of unrest among the locals who have begun to want the paper + its staff off the island.
To add to this cocktail are the sultriest, most maddening charms to appear on a written page, in the shape of hard-partying but tragic blonde Chenault, the girlfriend of one of Kemp's colleagues. The summer heat + mounting tension become more enveloping + intense with every turn of the page, masterfully turning Kemp's copious consumption of rum into a thoroughly riveting read..
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on 9 July 2007
Hunter makes you feel in this short novel that you are the protagonist, and that it is you who is experiencing the craziness of Carribbean nights and parties, the rum, the fear, the uncertainty, the laissez-faire article writing, the beautiful girl. It is an adventure, and one worth having. If you are looking for escapism, this is it. If you are looking for quality writing, this is it. If you're looking for a good story, this is it.
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on 1 December 2002
Yes, this is good. Hunter S. Thompson's best book works well on audio; Campbell Scott (veteran American actor of Daytrippers for example) does the novel full justice.
The book, incase you didn't know, was written by Thompson when he was around 25, something like that, and was re-discovered a few years ago. It is quite unlike the frenzied, humorous Gonzo stuff that made Thompson so famous/loved. This is sensitive, thoughtful prose, inspired by Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (check it out for comparisons/contrasts). The Rum Diary is about the commercialisation of South America, among other things - the scarring of the beaches with fat-cat hotels (check out Curse of Lono for continuation of this theme in Thompson's work, or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for that matter). But enough of that. This audio tape is abridged, which is a shame, but not heavily. In short, the story remains intact, and is well written and well spoken. I would strongly recommend you buy this audio tape; you will listen to it again and again.
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on 18 November 2011
If you've heard of Hunter S. Thompson, the plot of The Rum Diary will come as no surprise: a hard-drinking immoral reporter stumbles through a series of wild adventures. Thompson creates a `trouble in paradise' story and shows no shortage of skill in building a gripping, entertaining and believable story which portrays the tensions between the Puerto Rican community and the ex-patriate journalists of the San Juan Star. The Rum Diary was `lost', buried in Thompson's house and only published forty years after it was written and Thompson was established as the Gonzo hell-raiser in chief.

The Rum Diary is seen as a a roman-a-clef and I think that's pretty accurate since Thompson himself said:

`Fiction is based on reality unless you're a fairy-tale artist, you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you're writing about before you alter it.'

Paul Kemp, the protagonist of The Rum Diary, arrives in San Juan in the late 1950's, when tourism is beginning to boom, a town where all the beautiful girls are willing to have sex with anyone but him and his would be stellar career is being pulled into the quicksand of a failing newspaper. He falls into a life of hard drinking, finding free rum easy to come by at the copious press parties, trying to delay the contemplation of being over the hill at thirty-something. Kemp's pursuit of journalistic hedonism is a great party to crash but deep in his side is the thorn of the knowledge that the newspaper he works for is terrible and could quite easily fold, leaving him practically destitute in a foreign country. There is a sense of drunkenly mellow passivity, that Kemp feels like he has failed and is now at the top of a downward slide. That's not to say that this book isn't funny, it's laugh out loud funny (I had many odd looks on the bus while reading this). The Rum Diary contains more stamina, imagination and passion than some of Thompson's later work.

It seems at first to just be a decadent romp is actually much more, and those who dismiss it with in the first few pages will certainly lose out. It's a tale of the outsider, like a lot of Thompson's work is but this in particular has a truth to it that is hard to shake unlike some of the more extreme situations that can be found between the covers of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. It was written at a point in Thompson's life where he did face the prospect of being utterly broke and friendless.

Is this a modern classic? That very much depends on your opinion of Thompson. He's like Marmite: you either love him or loathe him. For me, The Rum Diary is a classic example of a great first novel but it is not a firm classic. Basically, this is a borderline case. I would recommend it cautiously: if you are likely to be upset by reading about someone who is living Kemp's decadent lifestyle then this book really isn't for you. On the other hand if you are interested in an intriguing and wryly amusing life of an outsider coming to terms with the consequences of his choices then crash his party and enjoy.
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Hunter S. Thompson's Rum Diary is the story of Paul Kemp (himself really) as a young New York reporter who heads for San Juan, Puerto Rico. Upon arrival he secures himself a job at the local English daily, the Daily News, subsequently he meets the rest of the gang of ex-pat writers who have little to report or do other than soak themselves in the abundantly cheap rum and eat steaks. As Kemp settles into this life of sun, sand and hangovers he repeatedly questions the morality of the path he is choosing to walk, especially after events with a friend's girlfriend leave him shaken. Will he escape in time to save his sanity?

The Rum Diary is well written, the depictions of San Juan are vibrant and bustling with life, you often feel as if you are back in 1959 at Al's eating burger after burger with Kemp and the gang. Thompson's writing is vivid enough to paint a clear picture but not distractingly descriptive. His characters are believable and consequently you end up caring for their fates, ultimately the book is too short to convey any real character progression or morals, despite "drinking your life away is bad".

Worth a read, recently turned into a film starring Johnny Depp (a personal friend of Thompson's) but over far too soon with just the 213 A5 pages. Recommended!!
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on 16 June 2013
In literature "The drunk" and "The drinker" are often romanticised. Hemingway, Bukowski, Capote, Poe; these authors as well as countless others are remembered for their hard-drinking, hard-living lifestyles almost as much as their written works. And among these hard-drinking, hard-living authors there are few with lives of excess so well documented as Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson is often praised as the father of the modern "Live-it-and-write-it" novel. He is also criticised as a writer that never truly lived up to his potential. His seminal work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was such a culturally-defining piece that all that was to follow just didn't measure up. And so where The Rum Diary would be considered a "Classic" had it been written by another author, it is constantly overshadowed by Thompson's colossus, Fear and Loathing.
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on 7 April 2002
This novel was written by Thompson in 1959, when he was only 22 and was probably yet to put the words "fear" and "loathing" into a sentence together. Only recently was the manuscript found and published, and well worth the 40 year wait it is, this is the great Hunter S. showing very definite early signs of his full potential and brilliance. Paul Kemp is how Thompson saw himself in 10 years time; drinking heavily and sweating a lot in some hot foreign paradise. He first arrives in Puerto rico after an alcohol fueled wrestling match on a plane with an old man who obstructs his view of a young blonde he has his eye on, and the first thing his new employer does is to ask him if he is a pervert, telling him that one more pervert at the newspaper would be the last straw. you can almost hear Kemp asking himself what the hell he is doing here amidst his laid back commentary. Along the way he befriends a terminal cynic, a mad bisexual, and a massive violent nut, who enjoys twisting heads...and these are just his fellow journalists. Thompson here lays out exactly how hard it is to survive and make a healthy living in a place like Puerto Rico, and all through a cloud of rum. Sheer Brilliance
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While not as weird as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and certainly not as insightful as Fear and Loathing in America, The Rum Diary drags you into the scene of San Juan in the late fifties and unfolds a strange and compelling tale of sex, violence and rum, lot's of it. Darkly comical- the scene of Hunter trying to save a seat for a young lady on a plane, and ending up assaulting an old man will have you chuckling. Whilst at the same time being comically dark- Thompson being beaten by the locals for an unpaid bar bill. The Rum Diary will have you thinking that you're lying on a beach in Puerto Rico. A great book for the summer and a good introduction to the King of Gonzo.
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on 26 January 2012
I regret not reading The Rum Diaries when it was first released , and it's taken the release of the movie to prompt me , to read the book. The Rum diaries is a great refreshing read like the breaks of the Caribbean ocean. Based in the late fifties on the sundrenched latin American Caribbean island of Puerto Rico and centred around a group of quite hedonistic American journalists , based in Sanjuan as they survive on a diet of litres of rum, junk food at seedy bars, and an extreme social life including skinny dipping in the Caribbean surf. The plot and pace flow compulsively in this classic which is an easy read not to be missed.
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on 31 December 2005
'TRD' was written in 1959 (though not published until the 1990s) and tells the story of Hunter Thompson's time working for a newspaper in Puerto Rico. Thompson (under the guise of Jack Kemp), joins a small staff of hard-drinking US expats misbehaving on the Carribean island, and finds himself doing much more boozing and partying than actual journalism. 'TRD' follows his chaotic lifestyle, as well as that of his colleagues, as the newspaper falls apart and their veneer of civilisation crumbles.
'TRD' is a fascinating book, especially for Thompson fans. Although the voice is distinctively his, it was written before he had his hopes raised and dashed by the social revolution of the sixties. Consequently the 'American Dream' was yet to be extinguished and the Thompson of 'TRD' is still very much in search of it. However, his disillusionment with his home country is clear. Initially the Puerto Ricans are portrayed unfavourably but, as the book progresses, we see that it is the American journalists who are dangerously unstable, typified by the violent Yeamon and his volatile girlfriend, as well as the more refined but no less odious Zimburger. 'TRD' is a kind of 'Heart of Darkness', as the image of the civilised American disintegrates into an orgy of drinking and violence..
I enjoyed 'TRD' a lot. It is brutal proto-Thompson. Perhaps it is a more likeable, even heroic, Thompson than his later books, but it is still easily identifiable as the cynical and weary journalist. It is less funny than his later works, but well written and enthralling. This is where Thompson's journey into the heart of American darkness began, and should be widely read for that alone.
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