Wow! Patrick McGrath’s Port Mungo (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004) is a deeply disturbing contemporary portrait of narcissism and moral dissolution in the figures of Jack Rathbone, a young, ambitious English painter and Vera Savage, his free-spirited (and older) lover and fellow artist, who flee the dull restrictions of London society for New York, then Havana, and, eventually, Port Mungo, Honduras; presumably, to ‘make art’, to master their craft and to conquer the art world (ala Paul Gauguin) in the generation after world war II. It is an exciting – even riveting – account of the artists’ exotic life and Jack’s development as a man and a father, as told by Jack’s very eccentric and adoring sister, Gin.
Just as the Honduran setting is exotic and alluring, so also is the narration. The account of Jack Rathbone’s dedicated quest for artistic maturity is charmingly and deceptively naïve. Full of the kinds of lush and tumultuous detail that we expect from the lives and struggles of young artists and lovers, the tale lulls one into a languid acquiescence as to the possibility of romantic adventure as naturally and seductively as a tropical lagoon. But it is also deceptive. It lulls us; it lures us. Why? Is it because the author is also enchanted?