The Rum Diary

The Rum Diary – Hunter S. Thompson, rum, cock-fighting, more rum, and . . . well . . . more rum.

It was 1959. Or was it 1960? He was 22 (He of course, being Hunter S. Thompson ). He flew into San Juan, Puerto Rico to work for a small sport’s paper, which later gave rise to the story stemming from the Caribbean hotspot, fittingly titled: The Rum Diary. The idea was to write an American novel that rivaled Hemingway and/or Fitzgerald, centered around Rum. He completed the novel to his liking and got a contract, but after continuous requests for revisions from the publisher and his other project regarding the Hell’s Angels really picking up steam, both parties agreed that The Hell’s Angels project should be his sole focus. The Rum Diary was tossed in a drawer. The manuscript was not finally published until 1998, almost 40 years later, after a historian stumbled upon it while rummaging through Hunter’s basement, helping him prepare for an upcoming story collection. Funny how good things always find their way back.

The book is about Paul Kemp, a young aspiring novelist who hadn’t found his voice just yet.

“I have no voice. I don’t know how to write like me.”

To pay the bills, he moves out to San Juan to pursue a job at a local newspaper. Before long, he is hired on by a rich real estate tycoon to write up property advertisements. For every bright light—be it wealth, riches, or paradise—there must be dark, which is exactly what Kemp is hired to mask. The greedy corruption he is in charge of covering troubles him. And to complicate things further, Kemp is in love with the boss’s girl. Throughout the book, Kemp crosses paths with several reckless characters and takes part in a wild drinking binge, rum being the vice of choice.

“How does anyone drink a hundred and sixty one miniatures?”

Before it’s all said and done, Kemp sets out to expose the corruption that he was once hired to cover up.

And oh yes, we cannot forget about the cock-fighting. I mean, how else was he going to get the money to run the story exposing all of those rich-yuppie pricks now that the paper had closed?

I really enjoyed the book. It is definitely softer than Hunter’s other works (the most popular being Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), but the humor and wit of a verging Hunter S. Thompson come through page after page. After reading it, I was inspired to go back through some of his other works.

The movie was a good representation of the book. I don’t know if anyone can upstage Johnny Depp as Kemp/ Duke/ Thompson). Being that they were friends in real life, I think Depp had a true understanding of who and what Hunter S. Thompson really was…something most of us are still trying to figure out. The rest of the cast all round was solid, primarily Giovanni Ribisi, Aaron Eckhart, and the breathtaking Amber Heard (who may be the next Scarlett Johansson). She makes any scene look good, no matter if up next to Johnny Depp or Nicolas Cage.

“We’ve all been down on her. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Despite the Rum Diary being “tame” compared to most of Hunter’s other works—where lacking in anger and hallucinations—it makes up for in simplicity and brilliance. In my opinion, and in defense of Hunter’s greatness, I would read this novel again before I’d read Hemingway or Fitzgerald (no offense Earnest, Scott). Hell, I’d watch the movie again, too. And maybe it’s just me (and hardcore Gonzo fans may disagree); I kind of like the relaxed change of pace this book/movie follows.

So . . . sit down. Relax. Get comfortable. You can put the drugs away (or not, it’s up to you). The Rum Diary can be enjoyed without overloading on LSD for a better understanding. But might I suggest . . . a little rum?

The Rum Diary is Hunter S. Thompson’s 2nd completed novel, and the oldest piece of work he’s had published.

Today marks 11 years since his passing. RIP Gonzo. RIP.

 

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