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The Rum Diary

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Begun in 1959 by a twenty-two-year-old Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary is a tangled love story of jealousy, treachery, and violent alcoholic lust in the Caribbean boomtown that was San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the late 1950s. The narrator, freelance journalist Paul Kemp, irresistibly drawn to a sexy, mysterious woman, is soon thrust into a world where corruption and get-rich-quick schemes rule and anything (including murder) is permissible.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

Hunter S. Thompson

138 books9,306 followers
Hunter Stockton Thompson (1937-2005) was an American journalist and author, famous for his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He is credited as the creator of Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become the central figures of their stories. He is also known for his promotion and use of psychedelics and other mind-altering substances (and to a lesser extent, alcohol and firearms), his libertarian views, and his iconoclastic contempt for authority. He committed suicide in 2005.

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5 stars
15,329 (26%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,418 reviews
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,374 reviews2,247 followers
July 26, 2022

Rum & hamburgers. Lobsters & mangoes. Skinny-dipping. Falling for someone else's girl. Pissed-off Puerto Ricans. Has-beens. Spongers. Public misbehavior. A shitty newspaper in decline. Soft-core lewdness. All held together: despite the fact Paul Kemp is far from sober most of the time, by a Hemingway-esque, first-person, clear and simple prose. No beating around the bush - just straight to the point in the least amount of words possible. For me, this was more enjoyable and accessible than Fear and Loathing - not necessarily better mind you, but more like a proper novel and less like deranged exuberant journalism. Less fucked-up. No acid obviously.

Despite the fact he gets to drink rum during day and get his leg over on the beach at night, 30-year-old Kemp is a character where the word morose easily comes to mind. He seems to find himself on the one hand caught between a restless idealism and on the other a feeling that something terrible is right around the corner. Part of his problem is simply San Juan itself, which Thompson writes about with panache and danger. For a while, nothing really happens other than Kemp and company ordering drinks and generally mulling over life in San Juan, before trouble looms, as Kemp and two colleagues - Yeamon and Sala - from the San Juan Daily News, get into a violent altercation with cops, followed by more of a real problem on the island of St. Thomas, where a carnival has enticed Kemp, Yeamon, and his sexy blond girlfriend, Chenault - whom Kemp has had his eyes on right from the off. They encounter looting, a wild party, and Chenault letting her hair down a little too much for the locals, before disappearing into the night.

Thompson might have driven the narrative into a bit of a dead end by the end, but, going along for ride prior was a real treat. For gonzo fans don't expect anything gonzo-esque - you won't find it here. Someone told me that this was basically like a second-rate Henry Miller, and that he would have made a much better job of it. If Henry Miller had written this novel I wouldn't have gone anywhere near it. I'd take Thompson over Miller all daylong.
Profile Image for Jonathan Ashleigh.
Author 1 book118 followers
January 7, 2016
This book was brutally normal. It went along nice and regular for a while and then something happens and you are sort of left to wonder how you should feel about it. Hunter S. Thompson is cool and collected in his thoughts and it really feels genuine.

John Zelazny is another emerging Aspen writer and he is picking up where Thompson left off.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews714 followers
August 16, 2022
I actually really enjoyed reading this. It was well written and engaging. I can see why people might have disliked it, but the things people disliked about it worked for me here for some reason. It's funny because the things I liked about this book didn't seem to appeal to me when I read On The Road right before this. Here I kind of liked the directionless plot line and self centered characters. I think the difference here is it felt like those things played into the overall ruminations in the book about aging and wasted time.

I do think it can be kind of tiring when you read multiple books with a male protagonist and you can just tell the character doesn't really see women as multifaceted human beings. I would avoid this if that's going to bother you. I didn't care except when because that felt like a little much. I was more incredulous than anything else though.

I really want to read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas now.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,686 followers
March 6, 2016
'"Happy," I muttered, trying to pin the word down. But it is on of those words, like Love, that I have never quite understood. Most people who deal in words don't have much fait in them and I am no exception -- especially the big ones like Happy and Love and Honest and Strong. They are too elusive and far too relative when you compare them to sharp, mean little words like Punk and Cheap and Phony. I feel at home with these, because they're scrawny and easy to pin, but the big ones are tough and it takes either a priest or a fool to use them with any confidence.' - Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary


At once a slice of Lowry's Under the Volcano and every other writer (Faulkner, Hemingway, Kerouac, et al) who drinks too much on an island with a girl. It is easy to drive too fast down the roads of this book and miss the fantastic prose. Even early Thompson had the sweaty, sharp, twisted prose that hits you in the head like a half-empty Bacardi bottle. One would think rum, women, sand and hamburgers might be heaven, but it also might be the next step to death. Thompson finds that awkward, brief shadow between paradise and hell and soaks it in and leaves us crumbs of grace that trails the reader out of that hot, heavy mess.
Profile Image for F.
294 reviews251 followers
June 10, 2019
LOVED IT - Much preferred this the 2nd time around.

Loved him referring to the other woman as his pig date all the time! So funny.

Profile Image for Brina.
898 reviews4 followers
July 21, 2020
The summer is getting steamy. Endless days above ninety degrees has me sitting in air conditioning nonstop. When I go out to on errands like I did yesterday, I find myself craving an ice cold drink. This summer I also actually participated in a seasonal challenge. I am a mood reader so I tend to avoid challenges other than open ended ones, but seven letters of scrabble was too fun to pass up. One of my letters was “r” and in need of a book, I caught the notice of rum. Rum and coke is definitely one of those ice cold drinks I love to sip at the end of a hot summer day, so without knowing anything about the premise of The Rum Diary, I picked it up to help complete my rack of scrabble tiles.

Believe it or not, I have never read a Hunter S. Thompson book before this. I have nothing against his books, but I never got around to picking one up. Before reading, I decided to research him as he is a new author for me. Thompson is credited with coining the term gonzo journalism, a first person narrative that removes any objectivity from the piece. He introduced this gonzo journalism to the world in his 1967 classic Hell’s Angels, which was later a movie. As a twenty two year old unknown, Thompson had written The Rum Diary in 1959. It remained unpublished until after his death in 1998, when the manuscript was discovered in Thompson’s estate. An autobiographical novel, Thompson follows young journalists around Puerto Rico, without a care in the world besides drinking rum all day and finding girls on the beach.

Thompson had been influenced by both Fitzgerald and Hemingway, but to me The Rum Diary was an instance of Breakfast at Tiffany’s moves to the beach. It is 1959. Paul Kemp is a thirty two year old journalist and searching for that last adventure before settling down with his life. He had covered Europe and desired a new locale so on a whim answered an ad for a job in Puerto Rico. Flights from New York to Puerto Rico at the time were only $50, and it seemed as though anyone young with means vacationed there. With rum being as cheap as twenty five cents a glass and rent as low as fifty dollars a week for a shared apartment, Puerto Rico was a new vacation destination. Kemp discovered this on his flight down when an attractive blonde got on his flight. He was immediately smitten, only to find out that she “belonged” to a fellow reporter. With work only typing a few lines a day and rum cheap and the beach in walking distance from almost anywhere, there were plenty more blondes to be had should Kemp decide to make his job more of a vacation.

Kemp got into plenty of adventures in his short time on the island. The Puerto Rico he has traveled to was not the built up tourist attraction it is today. The Caribe Hilton was relatively new, but that was it in terms of luxurious hotels with a beach. Puerto Ricans who wanted to get ahead moved to New York a la West Side Story, and those who stayed, at least the majority that Kemp met, were of low means and were clamoring for statehood. To this day, Puerto Rico remains a territory, statehood an ongoing debate. Yet, when Kemp and his fellow thirty something journalists worked in San Juan, mobs protesting the United States’ presence on the island was real. Kemp and some colleagues got ambushed at a greasy spoon diner, are met with a mob outside their newspaper building, and are rarely given the benefit of the doubt by the average Puerto Rican citizen. Their one refuge where they knock off rums and hamburgers and complain about their newspaper editor is Al’s, a greasy spoon that’s open twenty four hours and allows the journalists to eat on a tab.

Eventually the blond resurfaces, which had me thinking of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. An educated woman without a care in the world, Chennault is in Puerto Rico for the same reason as her male contemporaries. In 1959, there were few employment opportunities for Seven Sister educated women. Although Chennault has graduated from Smith College, her future was that of a typist, with the feminist revolution being a decade away. Like her male friends with means, Chennault saves one hundred dollars for an open ended round trip ticket to Puerto Rico. The scenes with Chennault were among the most amusing and steamy of the book. One can tell that this was written by a man in his twenties, but Chennault still offered comic relief among the conversations between the journalists. Whether she is tanning on the beach or gyrating at carnival, Chennault appears to be enjoying life. She knows that by returning to New York there are few opportunities for her, so why not have some fun before settling down in life. This is in essence why Kemp and the other journalists came to Puerto Rico in the first place.

Having no expectations going in, The Rum Diary was light, entertaining, and gave me a feel for the tropics during the time it was written. After never reading a Hunter S Thompson novel before, I am inclined to pick up another, especially if he writes about more steamy locales that make his books conducive for summer reading. With my scrabble board almost complete, I wonder what other hidden gems I will find before the season is through and whether they will be as comedic as this unearthed novella.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Kevin.
493 reviews82 followers
April 22, 2019
"No matter how much I wanted all those things that I needed money to buy, there was some devilish current pushing me off in another direction - toward anarchy and poverty and craziness. That maddening delusion that a man can lead a decent life without hiring himself out as a Judas Goat."

Allegedly autobiographical, The Rum Diary is an accounting of newspaper journalist Paul Kemp's alcohol induced misadventures in Puerto Rico, circa 1959(ish). Aptly titled with a plethora of boozy contrivances and catastrophes, it is surprisingly coherent and readable. I kept thinking that this is what William S. Burroughs could have been if his drug of choice had been rum instead of hallucinogenic narcotics. Thompson, when in control of his faculties, was one hell of a writer.

A word of caution: if your trigger is implied sexual assault, consider taking a pass on this one. Thompson's narrative gets a little rapey at one point. It was not well defined, but it was enough to give me a nasty knot in my stomach by sheer insinuation.
Profile Image for Kaya.
217 reviews218 followers
March 27, 2022
It isn't very good. The writing style isn't compelling, there is no plot and no hint of the future nor of the direction of the book. This is the kind of novel that you either adore or feel indifferent about. It's definitely NOT my cup of tea. There's no deep characterization nor natural growth of the bond between characters.

Paul is an arrogant journalist who makes his way from New York to Puerto Rico to work at the only English-language paper on the island. As the paper sits near bankruptcy, he begins to question the reason for coming to the island in the first place. He and his colleagues don’t do much reporting except to each other about drinking and getting laid. Paul falls into a love triangle with a fellow colleague Yeamon and his girlfriend Chenault.

With its large amount of disrespect for women, I find the book disappointing and outdated. I didn’t connect with the main character because he did nothing. The most memorable scenes in the book contain Al’s burgers because the description of Puerto Rico falls short of any exotic glamour. I kept waiting for something exciting to happen and before I knew, the book was finished. The characters are unconvincing and as I said, there is no plot going on.

Paul's perspective is too depressing because he finds nothing beautiful - everything is grey and flat. Besides his passive attitude, he's a pretty flat character with no particular ambitions except getting drunk and getting laid. Somewhere through halfway, it became repetitive to read about his monotonous days.

Paul and Chenault have a loose connection if there even is one. Sure, there is sexual tension between them, but I feel like it's there because they're both bored with life in Puerto Rico. He doesn't respect her and it's not like she has some deep feelings for him either. It's like they would've done the same thing with the first stranger that crossed their paths.
Profile Image for J.
194 reviews89 followers
January 11, 2022
I have no doubt Hunter Thompson could have been a decent and successful novelist. Instead he created and named his own branch (Gonzo Journalism) of the New Journalism Tom Wolfe and others had pioneered. He probably made the right decision if a lasting literary legacy was his goal, and I think it was.

This novel is influenced heavily by Hemingway and in particular, The Sun Also Rises. It is more engaging and entertaining than Hemingway's Parisian non-adventure, and the narrator is more believable and less pitiful. The style hints at the original, and now familiar, voice Thompson would find in his later creative nonfiction.

The plot is not taut or terribly inventive. The themes or ideas do not provide much in the way of epiphanies or profundities. The characters are not particularly likable, but they are developed adequately. The quirky journalists drinking rum and working for a failing English Language newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while always on the verge of getting arrested, killed, or catching a flight back to NYC or to Mexico or South America, are interestingly despicable creatures. The narrator himself is dissolute but far from insipid, which makes for a decent journey around the island. Overall it was a commendable effort from a young man on the verge of something greater and wilder.
Profile Image for Blair.
133 reviews118 followers
October 4, 2020
2 and a half stars
The Rum Diary is an early work by the Gonzo Journalist. Ostensibly a novel, the line between fiction and fact feels blurry when reading Thompson. The story is about a bevy of young hard-living journalists working for a struggling newspaper in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It's the late 1950's and Paul Kemp (Thompson?), the first person narrator, tells us of his and his disillusioned cohorts alcohol fuelled follies during his stint as a writer for a floundering newspaper.
An unlikable cast of characters who we never learn much about, and not much in the way of an actual plot, make it ineffective as a traditional novel, and it certainly doesn't have that feel.
Thompson, did in fact, work for a newspaper in San Juan in the early 1960's. And the novel has the feel of truth. The narrative is fast paced and gritty in a he said/ she said type of alcoholic fugue, but there are wonderful, lucid passages also:

"Like most others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles - a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other - that kept me going"

That sounds pretty autobiographical to me. Either way though, it was an interesting peak into the early work of a man who lived on the edge.
March 22, 2011
I just spent more than an hour and a half finishing The Rum Diary. I wanted to stop and hit the sack but something inside me whispered to go on. It was when I realized that nothing actually happened in the book. Large portion of the book was very descriptive; it’s like reading a strong-opinionated newspaper article about Puerto Rico and its appalling inhabitants.

The Rum Diary opens very promising, with snippets of office politics, masculine desperation and one’s search to find the meaning of life in a foreign land. For a book with nothing particularly interesting going on, Hunter S. Thompson got a way to keep me on the edge of my seat. The man’s got way with words. The only problem I encountered was, through the eyes of protagonist Paul Kemp, Thompson didn’t portray either the Puerto Ricans or the Americans in a very kind way. The expatriates were depicted as drunkards were irresponsible and unprofessional, while the natives were stereotyped as people who started fights with foreigners and cannot be trusted. Nothing is beautiful in Kemp’s eyes, except maybe “that little muff of brown hair standing out like a beacon against the white flesh of (Chenault’s) belly and thighs”.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed Thompson’s writing style. Verdict: Highly engaging though lacks of substance.

Profile Image for Ashley Daviau.
1,757 reviews754 followers
April 7, 2019
I’ve been a fan of Thompson’s writing since I first read and fell in love with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and I haven’t looked back since! I absolutely adore his writing style, it’s just so gritty and has this really spectacular punch. I think this book is my least favourite out of the three of his I’ve read so far but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t great! It was an excellent story and I felt like I was living an episode of Narcos as I was reading and I loved it. But I do have to deduct one minor star because I didn’t really feel anything for any of the characters and that’s always very important to me when reading!
Profile Image for Brett C(urrently overseas again).
784 reviews165 followers
May 2, 2021
I thought the story was a little slow, dull, and uninteresting at times. The plot was linear and logical but it lacked a hook to keep me interested. The dialogue and the interactions between the characters were believable The saving grace was Hunter S. Thompson's writng style. As with 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' I truly enjoyed the voice he is able to put behind his writing. This made the writing feel alive and vibrant. Overall it was an OK story but it went nowhere it thought. Thanks!
Profile Image for Laura.
636 reviews124 followers
June 3, 2022
This is rare, but I liked the movie so much more.
Profile Image for Tocotin.
761 reviews108 followers
June 15, 2015
Oh girlfriends, is this stuff dated! It’s so dated it stinks. I can’t imagine who would like to read it, really. Old boys, priests of the cult of St. Hemingway, who feel nostalgic about the good times when women, coloreds, and queers knew their place? Honestly, I can’t see the appeal.

So the dude knew how to write, but hey, there are plenty of good writers who manage to write well AND stay fresh and relevant. Thompson isn’t one of them.

It’s a sad and Tragic story of tough white Guys who are alone and Depressed in the place full of wild Puerto Ricans, and so they must get Drunk. There is one cute girl, but she is a Whore, because she likes to have Sex. Other women are difficult to Notice because they are Middle aged or Ugly, if the case is the latter then they get to be called Pigs. If a guy doesn’t stink of Feet and likes to dress smart, he must be a Queer. What is a Guy to Do when surrounded by such Monsters? Only get Drunk on Rum. Maybe read Conrad. (I’m not making this up. He’s reading “The N*** of the Narcissus” towards the end of the book.)
Profile Image for Mike.
299 reviews137 followers
March 10, 2021

"You're the same way", he said. "We're all going to the same damn places, doing the same damn things people have been doing for fifty years, and we keep waiting for something to happen." He looked up. "You know- I'm a rebel, I took off- now where's my reward?"

"You fool", I said. "There is no reward and there never was."

When I stayed with my friend Kareem in Boston for a few days this past August, his daily work schedule was from 7am-3pm. He didn't have an extra key, so I couldn't leave his apartment during the day, which was just as well; I'd been traveling for over nine months, I was exhausted, and I just wasn't in the mood to see the city. Additionally, the couch in his room was perhaps the most comfortable I've ever slept on; a couch that beckoned one to sleep, and sleep...and sleep. Your journey is over, this couch seemed to whisper to me, you survived the Russian winter and the Arizonan desert, and now you can just sleep...even forever, if you like. When Kareem got back from work, usually around 3:30, he would be so tired that he would doze off in the middle of desultory conversation about what we should do that night. He would wake up a few hours later, giving us time to stumble over to a nearby Thai restaurant, then back to the apartment and more sleep...and the feverish dreams that come when you sleep more, much more, than eight hours out of 24. Kareem's room had been designed without a window, by the way, which also made it impossible to distinguish night and day. If I had stayed any longer, I'm sure I would have started performing naked kata, like Martin Sheen in the beginning of Apocalypse Now (there can be little doubt, in retrospect, that Kareem had an extra key, but wanted to test the effect of prolonged isolation on my psyche, for god knows what sick purpose). But at a certain point in this strange twilight I evidently got my bearings enough to navigate my way (on my hands and knees, as I recall) to the side of the room opposite the couch, where good old Kareem had his bookshelf, and where I found The Rum Diary. A slim volume, it seemed like it would be an easy read, appropriate for my depleted state.

It was, although it's not a great novel. The characters are fairly one-dimensional, many of the scenes are cartoonish, and the plot is forgettable (I read it a few months ago and I’ve already forgotten it)…and yet it seems to me that beneath the perfunctory mechanics of the plot there's the real story; a story of life slipping away, of trying to stave off time by drinking too much and staking out for foreign countries, of putting faith in contrast and new experience, thinking that maybe this will finally be the time it all works out. This is all probably belied and made absurd by the fact that the narrator is barely 30, nor does the fact that I’m in my early 30s and relate completely make it any less absurd...but it probably explains why I enjoyed the novel in spite of its deficiencies.

This is a rewrite of a never-published first novel, something Thompson revisited about 30 years after his original attempt. Still, something of the charm of that early aspiration- the first novel, the Great Puerto Rican novel- survives, including the idea that a last sentence is not just any old sentence, but that it should be appropriately mournful, possessed of gravity and pathos:
Sounds of a San Juan night, drifting across the city through layers of humid air; sounds of life and movement, people getting ready and people giving up, the sound of hope and the sound of hanging on, and behind them all, the quiet, deadly ticking of a thousand hungry clocks, the lonely sound of time passing in the long Caribbean night.
'The deadly ticking of a thousand hungry clocks', listen, I can hear them myself.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,371 reviews920 followers
November 15, 2015
'Here I was, living in a luxury hotel, ,racing around a half-Latin city in a toy car that looked like a cockroach and sounded like a jet fighter, sneaking down alleys and humping on the beach, scavenging for food in shark-infested waters, hounded by mobs yelling in a foreign tongue - and the whole thing was taking place in quaint old Spanish Puerto Rico...'

I would guess that in the time that lapsed in this story, a couple tons of rum was consumed. I suppose that explains the title. But serious, these people had to be staggering around drunk all the time. It's amazing they actually got anything done. Oh wait. That's right. They didn't. But considering this story is set in the late 1950's I suppose that would explain their behavior as well.

"We're all going to the same damn places, doing the same damn things people have been doing for fifty years, and we keep waiting for something to happen. You know - I'm a rebel, I took off - now where's my reward?"
"You fool," I said." There is no reward and there never was."

Gritty and raw with a tinge of desperation. Paul Kemp in addition to everyone else he's become acquainted with since his arrival on the island of Puerto Rico have only ended up there in hopes of escaping to something better. After quickly realizing that Puerto Rico (at the time) is far from their original vision of paradise, the spiteful and bitter attitudes begin making an appearance. It doesn't take Kemp long to become just as bitter after the realization that a person can work so hard to have a better life, have more money, and to accomplish your dreams and never actually get anything done except wasting time and getting older.

"We keep getting drunk and these terrible things keep happening and each one is worse than the last... Hell, it's no fun anymore - our luck's all running out at the same time."

The Rum Diary is simply that, a diary. There isn't even that much of a plot, really. It's almost like a pilot episode, a small glimpse of what's to come but unfortunately there isn't any full episode to look forward to. Despite that, I find myself extremely fascinated and I now have an incredibly strong desire to read anything I can get my hands on of Hunter S. Thompson's. The Rum Diary is his second novel which he wrote at the age of 22 is semi-autobiographical because Hunter himself flew down to Puerto Rico as a journalist to write for a newspaper. Despite writing The Rum Diary in the early 1960's, it was never actually published until 1998 because no one was interested and he was constantly rejected. Fortunately, he revisited the idea of publishing it several decades later and he finally succeeding in releasing it to the world.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,673 reviews280 followers
October 14, 2014

I have a fascination with Hunter S Thompson. To me, he is the quintessential bad boy of the late 60s and onward. In your face, always high, and getting away with it. I used to fall for guys like that. I even married one but it didn't last. Still, I have a romantic remnant that attracts me to such rebels.

But I haven't read his books, just his Rolling Stone pieces as they appeared during the years I was reading that mag, before it lost its edge. So, in my usual way, I am starting at the beginning.

The Rum Diary is a book dripping with legend and lore: that Thompson wrote it in 1960 when he was a Hemingway worshipper but couldn't get it published, that Johnny Depp found the manuscript among Thompson's papers and got it published in 1998, that Depp finally got it made as a movie in 2011, six years after Thompson's death. When it comes to Hunter S Thompson, the truth is deeply buried in his outrageous persona.

I put the book on the 1961 list for My Big Fat Reading Project. I saw the movie last year and it was good. Depp spiffed it up for the 21st century but the book is better; less flashy, more sunk in youthful despair, and the female character is unrecognizable. She is not the one in the movie, she is more pathetic, but most of all she fits right in with the way bad girls were portrayed by male novelists in the early 60s. Hemingway would have approved.

The Rum Diary is a quick read. Since it is about newspaper people working at a failing daily paper in San Juan, Puerto Rico, it reminded me a little of The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, though this is the better book in my opinion. As a piece of Hunter Thompson history, the novel contains numerous harbingers of the man's later writing. Next up: Hell's Angels, 1966!
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
March 16, 2021
Fear and Loathing in San Juan

A Hunter S. Thompson novel (made into a movie featuring Johnny Depp), which he began writing at the age of 22, about an American journalist working in San Juan. I am sure this is not a favorite in Puerto Rico, as it features a series of Ugly American journalists who loathe San Juan and loathe their jobs, and drink constantly. The writing is very good, very lean, pre-acid Thompson, All Rum All The Time, where our anti-hero Kemp lusts after his abusive colleague's girlfriend. That is ostensibly the backbone, such as it is, of this narrative: Can Kemp get the girl? They refuse to pay a bar tab and get beat up, jailed. Sort of morose hijinks.

This has some noir influence, like The Stranger's Meursault on rum instead of wine, disaffected, full of late fifties hipster (but not quite Beat) ennui. Bukowski drinking territory. Raymond Carver. There's a kind of dark carnival scene that would be a lite version of the Day of the Dead festivities in Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano.

The thing that makes it less than fun is that there's some physical abuse (slapping) by the friend of Kemp of the (hopeful) girlfriend, and then she dances naked in a bar one night and is gone missing for a couple days, with no real explanation of what seems to be ominous events we can only guess at. The boys don't endear themselves to the locals with their arrogance. . . I think of Graham Greene's foreign journalist stories such as The Quiet American, or Hem's drunken Pamplona novel, The Sun Also Rises. Sound bleak? I would have liked it more at 25 than I did, but Thompson reveals lots of good writing chops here that makes it engaging.

Now on to Bukowski on Drinking, then back to Quebec for croissants and champagne with Louise Penny's crowd. . .
Profile Image for Michael Cunningham.
29 reviews23 followers
September 3, 2013

My first night in Saigon. I was sitting in a restaurant when a blind lady selling counterfeit books approached my table. Despite her glazed eyeballs (and her inability to find my eyes with her own) I was captivated by her bright personality and attractive face, and so I decided to actually have a look at her selection of illegally printed books rather than shoo her off like I did everyone else. She mostly had garbage travel books and lonely planet guides, but I did spot The Rum Diary (1961) in the corner of my eye, and being a fan of Hunter S. Thompson fan I realised this was a great opportunity to read his first novel, which was written in 1961 but not published until 1998 - a late bloomer if there ever was one. I also bought some weed off the woman before parting ways! I read this book everywhere. I read it in my shoe box hotel room (I use the word room lightly), I read it in the sun, I read it on the bus, I read it on the toilet, I read it on the beach and I read it while drinking rum... lots of rum. The word 'rum' gets thrown around so much you become fixated on it, and before you know it you're ordering three or four with every meal. The Rum Diary is a very easy and enjoyable read. It's a bit slower than Hunter's other novels, but is to be expected as he was still learning his chops. That is not to say he didn't have any chops when he wrote this, it oozes the Gonzo flavour that made Hunter famous. The review excerpt on the front cover puts it perfectly: "Crackling, twisted, searing, paced to a deft prose rhythm... a shot of Gonzo with a rum chaser" - San Fransisco Chronicle. The story follows journalist Paul Kemp (Hunter S. Thompson) in Puerto Rico, as he tries to make it in the hot and isolated world that he has escaped to. I won't say any more, but if you're a fan of Hunter S. Thompson, you owe it to yourself to read this and skip the movie, which is a pile of hollywood shit. If you've never read anything by Hunter S. Thompson, then you should start by reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, his best work by a long shot (unlike The Rum Diary, the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing is actually very good.)
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,225 followers
April 19, 2016
This is rum, indeed! Very questionable goings on going on here!

I believe this is labeled as fiction, but since Hunter S. Thompson mostly wrote about his experiences, The Rum Diary is probably about as fictional as say Kerouac's On The Road.

Even calling it "semi-autobiographical" is a scary prospect since that means at least some of this horror happened. "Horror" Koivu? ...Well okay, maybe it's lightened by some dark humor, but there are still some pretty awful things that happen herein, take for instance borderline rape.

Having worked for newspapers, I enjoyed living vicariously through the main character Paul Kemp "who, in the 1950s, moves from New York to work for a major newspaper, The Daily News, in San Juan, Puerto Rico." (Wikipedia) The struggle to get the story, the weak pay, oddball co-workers and foreign assignments are all dreams and nightmares of the typical journalist, and so it was easy to slide into a comfort-read with The Rum Diary.

The fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, care-free living, drinking and nearly dying flowing through out the narrative is very Beat Generation. There's no real goal, no protagonist with any particular object to obtain or obstacle to hurdle. This is not genre writing. This is what was en vogue in the mid 20th century. It's what most of my crusty old writing professors muddled my brain with. "Get with the times! Genre writing is finish, maaan!" I bought it, hook, line and stinker, and so I struggled to come up with novel ideas. Ah, but I'm grudge-grinding and getting off topic.

The brevity of The Rum Diary is what really sells it for me. This kind of compass-less writing (it's not entirely directionless, just occasionally wayward) only holds my attention for so long. Enough interesting things happen between the covers of this slim book to keep me mostly riveted through out and quite willing to recommend it.
Profile Image for Mike Marsbergen.
Author 4 books15 followers
July 15, 2019
First time I read this book, I was in the perfect place: depressed and working night shifts for a dead-end job with people I hated. My breaks were spent up in the lunchroom, alone and wanting to be alone, reading this book and wishing I was stoned. The novel was my reprieve from the mindlessness and numbed-out melancholia. I'm in a different place now, so I'm keen to see how it speaks to me now.


As I expected, the book sung a different song this time around. Far less bleak and hopeless than I remember, which leads me to believe it had been my own depression colouring the story the first time around. There are still strokes of the moodiness I remember, but also hints of that manic, wild sense of humour Hunter S. Thompson would become known—and famous—for, in the future.

Still a classic deserving of more recognition.
Profile Image for Josh.
1,636 reviews148 followers
June 17, 2018
Not sure what the purpose of this book was. Throughout reading I struggled to find any semblance of a plot as the drunken Paul Kemp meandered through a series of rum bottles and dull conversations with equally dull characters.

My rating: 2/5 stars. I couldn't get into this, luckily the audio edition was only 3hrs and 55mins long so it's not like I wasted a lot of time on the book. Campbell Scott was a decent enough narrator but he could only do so much with the drab 'story' if it can be called that. My recommendation: avoid, there are too many good books waiting to be read.

On a positive note, I thought the place setting was pretty interesting and the author did manage to instill a distinct Caribbean feel throughout.
Profile Image for britt_brooke.
1,288 reviews96 followers
February 5, 2017
"I was not proud of what I had learned but I never doubted it was worth knowing."

Rum. Lots of rum. And few hamburgers. Some debauchery. A little journalism. I liked it.

This semi-autobiographical novel was the second book Thompson penned yet was not published until 1998, presumably for financial reasons.
Profile Image for Georgia Scott.
Author 3 books155 followers
July 5, 2022
How does anyone make drinking this boring? My neighbor's German shepherd could tell one better about sampling homemade dandelion wine. At least it didn't cost me much. Not much to buy and not much of my time. It's a quick read because it's easy and light, Wonder Bread (to my American friends) or the sort called "toast" here in Europe. I like to chew. Give me real bread, golden in color not copier paper white.

Reading this makes me long for some good Hemingway or Raymond Chandler. Writing it, Thompson is like a kid trying to fit his feet in sand prints that are too big. You watch from your beach chair and soon shut your eyes asleep. Three stars for lulling me there. But I'm not on a plane or a train with time to kill. I'd rather Ernest gave me a shake or Ray landed one of those sucker punch sentences of his.
Profile Image for Jayakrishnan.
488 reviews167 followers
June 29, 2022
A depressing novel about wasted youth. Also called ageing.

I have a theory that Hunter was inspired by Naipaul when he wrote this novel. He kind of looked upto Naipaul. I've seen a photo of Hunter driving Naipaul around. Naipaul gave the freedom to a lot of writers to be as honest about race as possible. The portrayal of the people of San Juan was very Naipaulian. The drug addled Hunter who went apeshit in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and behaved badly, and over here he expresses his fear for the natives of San Juan, who are not exactly the best hosts.

I bought this book when I was a total wannabe in Chennai around 2003. Wannabes discover all the evil books. They deserve the alien cultures they appropriate. Then I reread this while I was wasting my youth getting drunk in Mumbai bars. A man discovers the books that destroys his life. Or some books discover men who want to destroy their lives. There is some magic here.

Dale Carnegie was not the only evil American. How many people did Carnegie save? How many lives did Hunter destroy? Nobody has a clue. Nobody knows anything.

The goofy movie based on this book was a joke. I paid premium for a show in Mumbai to watch the crappy goofy movie. Hunter would have strangled the overrated Johnny Depp fraud for that travesty. The movie even ignored an important character in the book. What a joke the movie was.

The book is great though. Greater than the tedious crap that was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Hunter does reveal that most artists cannot be trusted. That is his beauty. Don't put your life in the hands of a gonzo journalist. Or maybe do it. This book will make you want to take extraordinary risks. It is awesome. Maybe Hunter was a fraud. But frauds write great novels. I love this novel. This book will make you want to punch your co-passenger on a plane.
Profile Image for Larry.
420 reviews4 followers
December 14, 2008
I've read mostly everything else HST has written, and had heard of this early novel, but hadn't found it on the library shelves. So when I found it on sale at Borders I jumped. It's clear that this is early work, it lacks the bite of the Gonzo. Nevertheless, the writing is clear and well paced.

To me it seemed as though this was almost autobiographical in the sense that parts of HST are in different characters. Maybe the narrator is HST at the time he wrote this - not young and naive anymore, but experienced to know what his future held and learning his chops as he rolled along like a beach ball in the surf.

Another, perhaps Yeamon - is Thompson as he would like to see himself - the wild, aimless wanderer who knows he'll never starve as long as he has a typewriter or a pen and paper.

All in all, a good read. If you've read other, later books of his and expect to find more of that in this - you might be disappointed. I felt more like I was reading Hiassen, or even Dave Barry some of the time.
Profile Image for Brian.
273 reviews64 followers
June 29, 2012
This is where one of the greatest writers of my generation had his start. In his early 20s, and fresh out of the military, Hunter S. Thompson would spend his days honing his craft in the developing years of Puerto Rico. Tapping into the alcohol, sexiness and unapologetic excess that would define the later Gonzo style of the "Fear and Loathing..." works, "The Rum Diary" finds Hunter in the makings of his talent. It is unrefined and his trade-marks haven't quite become the hallmark prose you normally get, but what you can see (and what always existed in all his works) is Hunter's heart. He truly loves to write and in loves being a writer. You also get an excellent early glimpse into the soul and idealism that also makes up Hunter's personality. Hunter admired F. Scott Fitzgerald probably more than any other writer, and "The Rum Diary" is his ode to Fitzgerald.

There is a reason Johnny Depp chose to make a film of this book as his personal tribute to Hunter. Depp needed to find the perfect work that exhibited Hunter in the personality as he truly was to the people that knew him, rather than the crazy, Doonesbury-like caricature that he would become and eventually how people later remembered him. This book (and even the movie to a certain extent) definitely does do that. It is really for the fans that appreciate the zealousness of writing that HST lived for and nothing draws that out better than earliest, rawest novel.

For those expecting wild excess and an almost wild, hallucinogenic, ride that you read in the "Fear & Loathing..." pieces, you won't get it here. Though you do see mini-glimpses of it--which I would stand-by to mark them with a pencil. But you do get the treat of seeing a true artist of his day in his earliest forms--almost like being able to see Hemingway or Fitzgerald in their early journalist days.

God knows how our current world would have been like without the musings and incredible works of HST. But I do know our world is richer because of his rants done with heart and soul of a terribly gifted writer.
Profile Image for A.J..
Author 2 books20 followers
August 27, 2008
Hunter Thompson's original ambition was to be a novelist, and he wrote two unpublished novels, Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary, before he became a star of New Journalism and abandoned fiction for good. Prince Jellyfish has not seen the light of day, except in a short, forgettable excerpt, but The Rum Diary did, well after the fact.

And it's not very good. It opens with an uninteresting passage of description that attempts to set up the narrator and characters as larger than life. Thompson's protagonist, Kemp, arrives in Puerto Rico to work for a newspaper, where he falls into a love triangle involving the beautiful Chenault and his colleague, Yeamon. The climax of the piece occurs during a carnival, and Chenault is the issue, and ultimately, everyone goes their separate ways. Thompson's debt to The Sun Also Rises is clear, not only here but in the first paragraph of chapter one.

Overall, the novel is a disappointment. The characters are unconvincing and throughout, Thompson is trying too hard. There's little hint of the future, gonzo Thompson, except in an early scene on the flight into San Juan. The Rum Diary is the derivative early attempt of a young (22-year-old) writer, and it's likely that it would never have been published had Thompson not subsequently become famous -- and had he not been so careless of his reputation as a writer.
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