Friday, November 27, 2009

Jack London in Paradise

As a former English teacher who spent the last years of her career teaching American literature, I was immediately attracted to the title of this book, Jack London in Paradise, when I saw it on the shelf at the public library. I have never heard of the author or the work, but I took the novel from the shelf and stacked it with my others.

I have to admit that when I went to pick my next book to read, I kept moving this one to pick another one -- then this past week, I was in the mood... as I had read the first pages and knew the nature of the read. You have to be in the mood. Trust me.

Jack London reminds me of "survivor" stories, and since Thanksgiving was approaching and time with the "out laws" was imminent, I was in the mood for "atta boy" literature.


I'm kidding.

Jack London in Paradise, written by Paul Malmont, tells the story of Hobart Bosworth, a director, producer, actor, and "seducer of women," who falls on hard times, and seeks to partner with London on a screen play to help salvage his career.

A financial misunderstanding estranges the old friends, who had several successful movie adaptions of London's works -- most notably Martin Eden. Bosworth wishes to repair the relationship and his financial state, and he travels to Wolf House, London's estate outside of San Francisco, hoping that London will listen to him as he tries to explain how he was misunderstood. What he finds instead is Wolf House in ruins flattened by a fire.

Not deterred by this, Bosworth charms London's step sister, who is managing London's ranch in his absence, and discovers that London has escaped to "paradise." Bosworth sets sail to Hawaii in search of London and what he hopes will be a career saving screen play.

As Malmont obviously fictionalizes London's time in Hawaii, he does write a captivating novel with London as his central figure, even though most readers might despise the self-indulgent Bosworth.

Set in 1915, Malmont re-imagines London's last year, when Hawaii itself is still a tropical paradise, and when London was in a declining health, both mentally and physically.

London, "the dog writer," [LOL -- said by a vapid woman in the novel], and his private life come alive as Malmont describes Charmian, London's second wife, as desperate to save her husband who suffers from many ailments apparently the side effects from London's earliest travels and adventures -- most notably his trip to the Yukon and his grandiose idea of sailing the world in a sail boat which was cut short in Australia by a bout of malaria and kidney stones. Charmian keeps a drug regimen up that is both dubious and suspicious.

Not only is London physically ill, but Malmont focuses on his mental state -- a psychosis that has London having "visions" of the island's myths as well as Jungian psychology. Not helping his mental stability is the guilt and grief over the death of his infant daughter Joy and his wife's adultery.

The novel is a good read, but Malmont falters with his little side stories. Even though his descriptions of Hawaii are beautiful and effectively portray what it must have been like, he often sets off on adventurous side stories with secondary characters that I just wanted to end so that I could get back to London and that seedy Bosworth to see what happens.

Am I reading like a teen-ager?

Don't answer that.


  1. You really need to offer your talents to some local news publication. Just random stuff. Love reading your thoughts.

  2. If you enjoy reading about a fictionalized account of a famous person, you should try Ace Atkins. He writes crime novels based on true incidents. His most recent one, "Devil's Garden" was about Fatty Arbuckle's trial. It was a good read. I have really enjoyed his other books too. I e-mailed him about how much I enjoyed his work and he wrote me back. Talk about a great writer!