First and foremost, what a guy!
I’ve seen countless interviews of Hunter S. Thompson, as well as the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas starring Johnny Depp, but not once have I read any of his works. (Well, not until a few days ago, that is.) I was once a poser fan, but no longer!
If you plan on reading this book, I hope you’re in the mood for a glass of rum on ice because it will definitely have you craving one.
Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary is a piece of “gonzo journalism,” a type of journalism where the reporter is a part of the story and often told in a first-person narrative, making it very personal. Thompson lead the gonzo journalism movement in the 1970’s, making him the O.G. of the style.
The Rum Diary tells of “Paul Kemp,” a young journalist, and his time working at a drowning newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the late 1950’s. Once Kemp arrives in San Juan, he’s thrown into a whirlwind of drunken, sexual, and sometimes violent events with his friends and coworkers (while consuming a plethora of rum, of course).
Even though The Rum Diary was not published until 1998, Thompson first began writing this novel in 1959 when he was 22 years old, making The Rum Diary his first novel.
I don’t know if it was just my reading experience (aka working a full-time job and moving), but this book was pretty forgettable to me. It could be because my mind was focused on more important things, but the first 2/3 of the book have completely left my mind. I can recount the somewhat big events that happen, but I definitely wouldn’t put money on my Rum Diary trivia, if you know what I mean.
Thompson’s simple and captivating writing style kept drawing me to pick up the novel whenever I had 20 minutes of free time. I suppose you could argue that I wanted to pick up the book because I wanted a distraction from my actual responsibilities, and you would probably be right (I can’t even begin to express the hatred I have for moving), but Thompson’s prose definitely gave me an excuse to keep reading.
Another thing I enjoyed about The Rum Diary was the characters. I’m not sure if they were people that Thompson actually met, or if they were dramatized in a certain way, but I absolutely loved that the characters were FLAWED (we love some good humanism) in more ways than one. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy loveable and pure characters every now and then, but let’s be real, they’re boring. Thompson seems to make it a point to show the faults and lows of characters rather than their highs and achievements, and I admire that more than words can express. I’m all for complex, loveable-but-broken characters, much like Alex from A Clockwork Orange (my fav <3), and it just makes the story that much more engaging.
Even though Hunter S. Thompson’s prose and characters were intriguing, I decided to rate the book 4/5 because it’s pretty forgettable. Again, like I previously mentioned, it’s probably because of my reading experience, but it is what it is. I am interested in picking this book up again some time in the future and see if I enjoy it more because there are SO many reviews praising this book.
Are we surprised that I tainted my own reading experience? Absolutely not. I seem to be the queen of self-sabotage.
Another problem I had with Thompson’s novel was the outdated language and concepts, so Trigger Warnings for racism and rape. They definitely are not at the forefront of the novel, but I did feel uneasy when one of Thompson’s characters use the n-word, as well as the same character trying to take advantage of a drunk woman. However, Thompson does kind of save himself by having Kemp speak up or change the subject whenever these events occur. But still made me uncomfortable, nonetheless.
Thompson’s The Rum Diary is an enjoyable read, minus the aforementioned uneasiness, and would be a perfect summer read for the right person. Perhaps with a side of rum.
Extra Thoughts and Spoilers
I don’t really have a lot of extra thoughts on this novel because I, you guessed it, can’t remember enough to actually compare. Well, that and I don’t really have anything to compare it to, much like the unique and eccentric Hunter S. Thompson himself.
BUT I had to touch on perhaps my favorite quote of all time: “I’m tired of being a punk–a human suckfish.” Kemp then explains that he latches himself onto bad things, much like suckfish latch onto sharks.
As someone who also tends to be attracted to all things bad for me, this metaphor of the suckfish resonated with me in more ways than one. Rather than being the suckfish in my life, I’d prefer to swim in my own stream. I often have the energy sucked out of me (pun intended) when it comes to my job, family and friends, but it’s time for a change.
I think everyone can resonate with not wanting to be a suckfish, whether you apply it to your friends or work or anything. We all deserve to treat ourselves with kindness than letting some shitty shark determine our route.
Swim free my little fishies!