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Melvin Burgess
Port Mungo
by Patrick McGrath

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Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Knopf (2004-06-01)
ISBN-10/ISBN-13: 1400041651 / 9781400041657 Sales Rank: 4637950

Other editions
Paperback (Vintage $13.00)

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“At the end of this immensely clever and tautly composed novel, the admiring reader may be left with a corresponding shadow of a doubt. Is Port Mungo a seriously meant meditation on the shadowy wellsprings of art and love, its carefully contrasted characters embodying the fraught polarities of this radioactive field? Or is it, rather, a cunningly contrived device of smoke and mirrors, with secrets passing for mysteries, and gothic conventions—doubles, ghosts and family curses (the ‘curse of the Rathbones’ is invoked for good measure)—smuggled in for added frissons? Well, as Eduardo might say, that's art. For what is art, finally, if not a contrivance in which one is gradually brought to believe?”

Christopher Benfey (The New York Times)

A 2004 Vacation Reading (selected by The New York Times)
“This immensely clever, tautly composed novel concerns a Gauguinistic artist who flees the suffocating confines of London for New York, then Havana, then Port Mungo, at the end of world and mind, where his genius flourishes. Unless it doesn't, since we learn that the narrator of all this is quite unreliable and full of hidden purpose.”

Book description
Patrick McGrath is a writer of astonishing accomplishment: “fiction of a depth and power we hardly hope to encounter anymore,” according to Tobias Wolff, with “the drive and suspense of the most shameless thriller [and] the inevitability of myth.”

Port Mungo, his sixth novel, is a harrowing story of art and love, and of a family cursed by both. Throughout a privileged, eccentric childhood, Jack Rathbone enjoyed the constant adoration of his sister, Gin. So at art school in London, she is pained to see him fall under the spell of Vera Savage, a spectacularly bohemian painter with whom he soon runs off to New York City. From a bruised, bereft distance, Gin follows their southward progress through Miami and prerevolutionary Havana to Port Mungo, a seedy river town in the mangrove swamps along the Gulf of Honduras. Here Jack discovers himself as an artist, and begins to work with a fervor as intense as the restless, boozy waywardness to which Vera gradually succumbs, and which not even the births of two daughters can help to subdue.

Patrick McGrath’s mesmerizing narrative tracks these lives from the fifties in England to the nineties in Manhattan: the latter-day Gauguin; his buccaneering mate; the girls, Peg and Anna, left adrift in their wake; and Gin herself, their painstaking chronicler, whose house in Greenwich Village eventually becomes a haven for them all.

This feverish world of tropical impulses, artistic ambition, and love both reckless and enduring leads the Rathbones, ultimately, to a death swathed in mystery, and to another similarly bound in complicit secrecy, as the imperatives of passion, narcissism, and creativity hold each of them—and the reader—in relentless thrall.

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