Sunday Book Club

Hunter S. Thompson: The Rum Diary
By Alex James Taylor | Art | 19 April 2020
This article is part of HERO Dailies – Essential culture, curated daily and also part of Sunday Book Club

HERO DAILIES: Essential culture, curated daily
SUNDAY BOOK CLUB: This week's recommended read

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

While ‘finished’ in 1962, Hunter S. Thompson’s second novel – his first, Prince Jellyfish, remains unpublished novel – The Rum Diary, wasn’t published until 1998. The story goes that while Johnny Depp – a friend of Thompson’s who organised for his ashes to be shot out a cannon into the night sky under the writer’s wishes – was living in Thompson’s basement, he was going through old files in the “war room”, where Thompson kept years of finished and unfinished writings and correspondence. Here, the actor discovered the manuscript of the unpublished Rum Diary Rejected for publication when it was first written, with Depp’s encouragement to start “waving whiskey bottles at people with thick wallets,” the novel was published  in 1998, with a film adaptation set for 2011.

Set in late 50s boomtown San Juan, Puerto Rico, within this sweaty Caribbean climate we’re introduced to our protagonist, Paul Kemp, a boozy, outspoken and bitingly hilarious journalist (sound familiar?) who moves from New York to work for The Daily News, a major newspaper in Puerto Rico. From the get-go, Kemp’s relocation takes a left-turn and doesn’t get any more sane: engaging in some old fashioned argy-bargy on his flight out, Kemp then discovers that the paper is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy before falling for his friend’s girl and getting chucked in jail.

Based on Thompson’s own experiences working as a journalist in San Juan – working at El Sportivo, a fledgling English sports weekly – it’s a thinly-disguised disguise between Kemp and the self-styled Doctor of Journalism. And while money was tight, rum flowed freely, aiding an outrageous story of excess and sun-blessed corruption that offers an early insight into the career of one of literature’s most incendiary and damn right crazy iconoclasts.

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