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Dead man leading To the Last City by Colin Thubron 168pp Chatto 1499Unlike his coeval among travel writers Paul Theroux Colin Thubron has never had the acclaim for his fiction that he deserves To point it out bluntly like this reinforces the impression of inexplicable failure but I am constantly astonished when admirers of his melancholy passionate travel books express surprise to learn that Thubron has written novels at all They should check out at least among his six previous fictional works A Cruel Madness 1984 In a close tie with Patrick McGraths Asylum it ranks as the best English novel about mental illness of the last few decades That may not seem like much of an accolade until you consider how problematic a novel with such a subject might be - what difficulties one could run into presenting a very disturbed consciousness Thubrons great triumph in that novel was to engineer a particular impression in the readers mind a particular conception of reality and then disturb it actively If this didnt exactly put readers in the same position as the mentally ill it at least showed us that saneinsane is not the clinical demarcation that some would have us believe Instead one came away from the novel alert to an idea of competing realities Perhaps alerting us to that idea is one of the jobs of novels And though maybe in a slightly different way of novellas such as Thubrons new production To the Last City It is set in the South American jungle and the title immediately invites comparisons with The Lost World Conan Doyles romp involving Professor Challengers search for a lost Inca city The author of the Sherlock Holmes stories was capitalising on a tradition of jungle exotic that was already well established through colonial adventure stories Others would follow in more recent times adding their own spin as their personal predilections dictated VS Pritchetts Dead Man Leading a perfectly pitched
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