The Bad Angel Brothers by Paul Theroux - review by Simon Baker

Simon Baker

Yours & Mine

The Bad Angel Brothers

By

Hamish Hamilton 342pp £20
 

Given that ‘late style’ often involves a paring back, a shedding of detail in a search for the essential, it should be no surprise that a summary of Paul Theroux’s twenty-ninth novel, published in the author’s ninth decade, reads like that of an ancient tale. Two brothers, one who stayed at home, the other who travelled far in search of precious stones, are quietly at war with one another. The ‘home’ brother, Frank, is physically weak but calculating; the bold traveller, Cal, is strong and instinctive.

Or so Cal Belanger, the narrator of The Bad Angel Brothers, tells us. Cal, a geologist, detests his lawyer brother with a rare, verbose, sometimes amusing and occasionally repetitive intensity that has defined his life. He left home merely to escape Frank, and in particular Frank’s malign desires: ‘He wanted to torture me, he enjoyed seeing me suffer, he aimed to ruin me. I had no idea why.’ He made a quick fortune in mining, while Frank stayed at home in the fictional town of Littleford, Massachusetts, where, as the town’s go-to personal injury lawyer, he built a slower, surer fortune of his own.

Cal eventually returned home to Littleford, along with his new wife, Vita, whom he met on his travels. But he didn’t stay long, going off again on mining expeditions around the world. This has left Vita in Littleford, where she campaigns to save children from exploitation in the mining

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