The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux - review by Leo Benedictus

Leo Benedictus

Dirty Dwight

The Elephanta Suite


Hamish Hamilton 277pp £18.99

India is the setting for this short-fiction triptych from inveterate traveller Paul Theroux. And indeed, in its focus on the tales of tourists puzzling over quirks and mysteries of a foreign land, one might easily take it to be another of his travelogues. Might, that is, if it weren’t for all the sex.

The first story, ‘Monkey Hill’, concerns a rich middle-aged couple discovering themselves, and the massage facilities, in an exclusive Indian retreat, while rumbles of communal unrest begin to froth around the temple outside. From here, we proceed to the tale of Dwight, corporate lawyer, divorcee and rampant plunderer of the developing world, who soothes his distaste for Mumbai by having sex with street girls. And finally, we encounter Alice, plain but headstrong, the young American traveller who tastes life as a real Indian by living in an ashram near Bangalore and taking a job in a call centre.

In each case, even as events begin to sweep our heroes away, it is in their heads that the real drama happens. For this, as Theroux’s fans will know, is the literature of wandering around and thinking about things – longing for this, suddenly realising that. Indeed the three stories

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