The Rum Diary – Hunter S. Thompson

Although written in the 1960s, this novel was not published until 1998 due to being rejected by publishers. This is why it is often described as the ‘long lost novel’. It was found by Thompson’s friend and actor Johnny Depp, who encouraged him to get it published and played the protagonist Paul Kemp in the film adaptation of the book.

Paul Kemp is working as a journalist in Puerto Rico at an English-speaking newspaper and is struggling with constant fear of ageing, the changing world of journalism and jealousy.

Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s real experience of working at a Puerto Rican newspaper, the novel is drug and alcohol fuelled, set against the Caribbean heat, which adds to the madness. It’s fast paced, energetic and hilarious, but juxtaposed with beautiful descriptions of the Caribbean landscape.

The editor of the Puerto Rican newspaper treats the journalism industry like a business and only cares about the money side. Paul Kemp desperately tries to write about the really important issues, why locals are leaving Puerto Rico for example, with no hope. The reporters at the paper also do not care about the industry. Everyone is just sliding through life, against the backdrop of the Caribbean heat, surrounded by rum and drugs. The newsroom feels hazy, not full of deadlines as it should be. It shows the dying art of journalism and the world’s loss of faith in everything, from the reporters in print journalism to the locals leaving in Puerto Rico.

Kemp sees a beautiful girl on the plane to Puerto Rico, right at the start of the novel. I assumed it was just adding to the description of the scenery, emphasising his intoxication from the amount of rum he drank before boarding the plane. But she becomes a love (or lust) interest for Kemp, despite her being married to a reporter from the paper.

Although there are beautiful descriptions and interesting themes, the story at times can be lacking, as though lots of events are merely just happening after each other. However, the alcohol and drug induced drama between the characters keeps it interesting and intense.

The fact that the story is based on real events made it a lot more interesting for me and made me want to know more about Hunter S. Thompson’s life.

About the author: Hunter S. Thompson

  • Born in 1937, Kentucky and died in 2005, Colorado.
  • Hunter S. Thompson founded gonzo journalism, which is when the journalist immerses themselves so deeply within a story that they become the central focus.
  • He was a journalist and author.
  • His famous work includes Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and journalistic work in Rolling Stone, Esquire, Time, Vanity Fair and several more publications.
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