My Secret History Paperback – 25 Jan 1990
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"Merges the two genres he's famous for... My secret history is about the permanence of marriage in the face of mistrust and infidelity; it's about the wisdom of women and the foolishness of men; and it's about mature love as the necessary and sometimes successful antidote to youthful selfishness."
-- the New York Times Book Review
"Consistently entertaining... Theroux's hero is a man of ironic intelligence and amusing self-awareness."
-- Time --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
You could be forgiven for thinking that it is at least partly autobiographical despite the author's assurances to the contrary. It exudes honesty and first-hand knowledge, which is the greatest trick a writer can pull off, thereby effortlessly drawing the reader into the story.
The story is a recounting of the main events of a man's life via five snapshots telling of his most important relationships. Mainly these involve women but his relationship with writing, travel and, most of all, himself are really what the book is about.
There's an obvious restlessness about the main character. It's almost as if he loves too many things and has to try them all. If he could only concentrate on a few things perhaps he would find contentment but no, he is constantly unsettled and on the move.
The one aspect that stops this being a 5-star book for me is the tendency for it to read like a travel book in sections (wholly understandable but slightly interruptive). That said, it is still well worth a read.
The underlying belief of the main character that it's important to know when you're happy is a basically simple one, but is very well handled and helps explain some behaviour.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Chapter 1 (Altar Boy) is about Andre's coming of age, and outgrowing his parents expectations.
Chapter 2 (Whale Steaks) covers his oscilation between his love of a slightly older girlfriend, and his fascination with someone from his parent's generation.
Chapter 3 (African Girls) talks about his adventures in the peace corps, largely oriented around sleeping with the local girls.
Chapter 4 (Bush Baby) is the continuing story of his adventures, including some encounters with a V.S. Naipul lookalike. (Interesting as Naipul was a major influence on Theroux's career)
Chapter 5 (Leaving Siberia) has a double meaning. It is about Parent physically leaving Siberia on a travel writing trip, and an emotional exit from Siberia after learning of his wife's infidelity.
Chapter 6 (Two of Everything) is about the double life that Parent lives - one with his wife, and another with his mistress. It chronicles an identical trip through India with both women. This is an example of him becoming what he had previously abhored.
The book is well written on several levels. It vividly takes you into the peace corps, and through Africa. It also has a lot of subtly, as the character first repeats his own mistakes, and then repeats the mistakes he dislikes in others. The disappointment with his eventual success (be careful what you ask for as you might get it) on both the large and small levels are told with a straight face, adding to the believability of the character.
The book is 500 pages of a quick energizing read. Well worth the time invested.
Another Paul Theroux book that you should not miss is Milroy the Magician. Fantastic!
I 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. In the end, I felt sorry for Andre, but I wanted to read more. Theroux is a gifted writer, despite Andre's (or was it Paul's) treatment of women. I found this book very hard to put down.
OK, this book is not another travel book. Whether or not it is a true biography, I have no idea. Some people lately have decided that an autobiography can be semi-fictional. I don't know about that. To me, I will have to accept this as a novel, since no other claim is made.
Nevertheless, it is a real interesting novel and this is coming from someone who reads almost nothing except non-fiction. Once in a long while I will pick up a fiction book and in this case did only because the author is Theroux.
Maybe it is an autobiography since he does reveal fascinating aspects of somebody's life, including extensive sexual escapades and wife beating, as well as adultery. Not something a person normally will put in their autobiography.
The book is divided into separate chronological periods in the author's life, each quite different than the other, but all held together by a fascinating life. Since at the end the author becomes a travel writer, traveling on trains around the world, one can only supplse it could be the author, but I think not. At least, Thoroux is not as bad a character as this one.
He often points out that, as in the title, this is his "secret history" or secret life, kept away from anyone else and only those with secret lives will understand what that is all about.
Could be; there are many people both well-know and not known beyond their home, who do lead a secret life.
Try to buy or borrow the book and enjoy some fun reading for a good long time. As I recall the book is nearly 500 pages in hard cover.
I reconnected with "My Secret History" when it became available on Kindle. It still holds up more than twenty years after it's publication. It's particularly engaging for readers who are familiar with Theroux's broader work. You see themes repeated. His first novel, "Waldo," comes through in the early sections when he's a young man coming to terms with his place in the world. There's a section that retraces the author's trek through Asia that he recounted in "The Great Railway Bazaar," and you'll also find one of the short stories from "World's End" re-told in more poignant detail. V.S. Naipaul, too, plays a significant role in this novel.
"My Secret History" is a literary bildungsroman where the reader peers inside the mind of a writer as he establishes himself over a career. Some have criticized Theroux for an absence of originality in this novel, arguing that he has written autobiography rather than fiction. The criticism is lost on me, for what Theroux wrote was a story that engages the reader. It's a novel from a gifted, professional writer who knows how to construct a spare sentence that conveys meaning and sentiment.
I've read most of Theroux's books -- his fiction and his travel writing -- and I have liked much of his work, but this is the book that led me to connect with the writer. It's a relationship that I carry with me.