by Patrick McGrath Patrick McGrath
Category: Fiction / Literary
304 pages; ISBN: 1400041651
Rating: 10/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Gail Cooke
In his five previous novels (most notably "Asylum") Patrick McGrath has proven to be an author who writes with compelling intensity, fashioning a love story that haunts and surprises. He's a master at painting tragedy where one least expects to find it. This, for many, may be the fascination of "Port Mungo."
Told largely in flashbacks this is the saga of the Rathbones. Jack, a young painter is adored and cosseted by his older sister, Gin. Theirs is a privileged existence. While attending art school in London 17-year-old Jack is besotted by Vera Savage, an older avant garde painter. The pair leave what they consider to be the suffocating confines of London for New York City. Once there, Jack "could see no earthly reason why, with Vera beside him, he should not achieve all he knew he had it in him to achieve."
But New York doesn't prove to be the haven or inspiration he had imagined, and the pair flee to the South, very far South, Honduras, to a fictional town, Port Mungo, "a once prosperous river town now gone to seed, wilting and steaming among the mangrove swamps of the Gulf of Honduras."
Gin visits there only once for a period of ten days. She has come to see the couple's first child, a daughter, Peg. Once there, she learns that Vera is an alcoholic given to countless affairs. Motherhood did not agree with Vera nor did it cause her to settle down. Nonetheless, a second daughter is born, Anna.
At the age of 16 Peg dies mysteriously, her body found in swamp water. This is a tragedy that seemingly Jack cannot endure, thus he returns to New York City and Gin. But now his painting, when he can work is dark and foreboding. Gone are the brilliant colors of the tropics, the light that had once been captured by his brush.
Much later Anna also comes to the City, asking questions about her sister's death, wanting to know more about her parents. Anna's appearance sparks a series of heartbreaking events.
Read "Port Mungo" for the pleasure of Patrick McGrath's flawless prose, to enjoy his evocative descriptive text. Read it to learn the secrets of another's heart.
- Gail Cooke