Blinding Light

by Paul Theroux

Slade Steadman is a One Book Wonder who has been resting on his
laurels since his bestselling travel book, TRESPASSING, made him a
millionaire 20 years ago. The royalties from tie-ins through a
clothing line, camping gear, movie and TV serialization have set
him up in a mansion on Martha's Vineyard through continued
residuals and unlimited access to the world of the rich and famous.
It also has created impotence and mind-boggling boredom, and worst
of all, acute writer's block. Try as he may, he cannot come up with
even the bare bones of an idea for a follow-up book, despite the
urging of his agent and publisher.

His girlfriend Ava, a Boston gynecologist, hears of a drug tour to
Ecuador where they will be transported to a remote tribal village
deep within the jungle interior to partake in a secret ceremony
involving a hallucinatory drug. Steadman sees the spark of an idea
for another travel adventure book, and agrees. They join a small
group of thrill seekers in search of ayahausca, which is reputed to
unleash creative powers.

His fellow adventurers include a cynical German journalist,
Manfred, who spots a plant in the jungle that he recognizes as
datura, the basis of atropine and scopolamine. He makes inquiries
and discovers that for a price the village shaman will prepare a
concoction for Steadman and Manfred. Steadman is rendered
temporarily blind, but with extrasensory powers and
hypersensitivity to odors, tastes and awareness. He manages,
through Manfred, to secure a year's supply of the raw materials and
the method for brewing the psychotropic tea needed to induce the
8-hour trance.

Back on Martha's Vineyard, Steadman and Ava delve into creating the
novel THE BOOK OF REVELATION, a fictionalized autobiography of
Steadman's coming of age. Steadman doses himself regularly with the
drug, finding that he is blind, yet his other senses are elevated
to a greater height than he ever believed possible. With Steadman
dictating and Ava taping and making suggestions, the datura brings
about another side effect: erotic sexual explorative episodes that
he dictates through the day and plays out with Ava at night. The
results are both surprising and devastating.

Steadman becomes addicted to the datura and presents himself to the
public as a blind man; he becomes the famous Blind Writer. The
complications that arise from maintaining the public image when the
blindness is in fact only drug-induced lead to many encounters and
problems between Ava and himself.

Underlying the novel is the juxtaposition of Steadman's double life
as a blind man to the public and a drug user in private, against
the emerging drama of Bill Clinton, whom he meets at a celebrity
dinner on the island. His extrasensory perception under the
influence of the datura allows him to recognize that the president
is hiding a deep shame. The president is drawn to Steadman and
includes him in his social circle. Steadman's charade of the public
blind man is threatened to exposure while Clinton's debacle unfolds
on the world stage.

Author Paul Theroux resembles his anti-hero Steadman in more than
one way: he is a travel writer, but hardly a one-trick pony as he
has 40 nonfiction books and novels under his belt. He also took a
similar trip to Ecuador to experience the drug in order to write
with authority of some of the effects. He writes of the writer's
life and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous from personal
experience, but in an interview stated that while he has
experimented with drugs he can only write with a clear head after a
good night's sleep.


Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 22, 2010

Blinding Light
by Paul Theroux

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0618418865
  • ISBN-13: 9780618418862