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Saint Jack

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  471 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
At one time, expatriate Jack Flowers was the youngest drinker at Singapore's Bandung Club. Now, at 53, he is a fixture. But he is beginning to fear death, alone and vulnerable in the alien tropics. And Jack still dreams of success. How can he convert his "perfect dream of magic" into reality, away from the seamy waterfront that has become his home? A funny and sophisticate ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published July 1st 1997 by Penguin Books (first published 1973)
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Graham P
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps one of funniest first-person literary unravelings on middle-age. There's a rich yet subversive sadness that permeates this novel, episodes cloaked with wise-assed recollections and somber gratitudes. Saint Jack is such a great character, his cloth cut from Woody Allen interpreting Graham Greene, a purveyor pretending to be a pimp, as loud a player as his wide collared tropical shirt and dime-store cigar. Paul Theroux is on fire here. His writing is top shelf, flowing with a rare sense of ...more
Chrissie
Dec 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was a little nervous reading one of the few books my husband owns that he hasn't read (why hasn't he read it? maybe he did read it and it wasn't good so he forgot it.), but this was actually pretty good. Some of the bits on aging got a little depressing, but I suppose that just means they're convincing.
Janet
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book--love Theroux's oeuvre of novels set in exotic locals, always sexy, always juicy and absorbing. I don't remember whether I read St. Jack or Half Moon Street first--inspired by the movies, it's true. Perfect for times you really need to hit the road and go someplace hot and sweaty and have a sexy adventure but are too broke to travel.
Tim
Apr 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Like Jack Flowers, Singapore has a less salubrious past. The modern image of Singapore is an excruciatingly clean, wealthy and law abiding city, where chewing gum is illegal and taxi drivers refuse tips. But it wasn't always this way.

Saint Jack is a thorough exploration of very complex character. What is it that makes him act the way he does? Is it the circumstances, the vice filled city, the accident of chance, the desperate loneliness of a foreigner in a city with no hope of ever returning hom
...more
Stephen
Sep 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is the truly cool cucumber we all want to be, a guy who can stand his ground when the heat is on. Jack is a survivor, but with heart, and if the only way he can make the world a little better is to NOT make it worse, then that's what he will do. One can find art even in dirty Asian brothels and shitty little shipping offices if one looks closely enough. (Also, check out that gritty, uncomfortable, beautiful movie version out there by Bogdonavich and Gazarra. It's an acquired taste, but wort ...more
Lynn Wyvill
Jan 17, 2015 rated it liked it
The story of a pimp, procurer, fast talking John is told with the awareness of a man analyzing his life at middle age and wondering why he is old. Told as a memoir, he reflects with little regret and tells his story with open honesty. Theroux prose is fluid and descriptive, making Jack, the main character likeable and his decisions believable. World events influence his enterprises as he reacts to the Korean Ear, the Vietnam war.
Irene
Oct 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
I picked it up solely because it's set in Singapore. Not really my kind of story. I got bored by the first few chapters, and nothing seemed to be happening apart from the ramblings and boring times of a middle-aged ang moh. I didn't finish it. I hear there's a movie. Maybe I'll give that a try.
Bob Newman
Nov 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Aging hustler handles hussies, halts at harm

When Paul Theroux was young, before he REALLY soured on the world, he wrote some brilliant, pleasantly-comical novels and stories. This is one of them, the tale of an American pimp in Singapore, whose cover is to be a ship chandling agent for a local Chinese boss, but whose main occupation concerns girls, boys, sex shows, blue movies, and whatever else his varied foreign clients may desire. Hard drinking with leftover colonial Brits, keeping his "girls
...more
Nick Jacobs
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating tale from when SIN referred to more than the airport code

Now I know why old folk would give me funny looks when I told them I lived in Bugis, back when I first moved to Singapore. A gritty tale of a world gone - almost...
Chris Gager
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
My book is one I rescued from the local transfer station/dump trailer. A paperback with Ben Gazzara on the cover from 1979. I'm pretty sure I saw the movie but I don't remember much. This will be only my second Paul Theroux novel though I have read some great short stories from him, including a few in The New Yorker.

Slow progress but I'll get into it tonight. This the second of PT's books I've read that take place at or near the time I visited or lived in those places. The first was "Hotel Honol
...more
Ian Lambert
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read this a very long time ago and enjoyed revisiting it after a some years in Asia which gave it resonance.
Troy Parfitt
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Having read all of Theroux’s travel books (besides The Tao of travel, a volume he mainly compiled), I am now making my way through his novels. I would classify this one, Saint Jack, as just fair. Though better than his debut, Waldo, it is nowhere near My Secret History. Saint Jack is an early Theroux effort and unfortunately it shows.

The creativity is still there. Theroux worked in Singapore as an English teacher, not a ship chandler’s assistant, like his protagonist, Jack Flowers, and the unde
...more
Sonoko
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
Rootless dude scrapping along trying to scrape a nest egg from the pockets of horny expats. It's a fine evocation of the floating world of male expats in SE Asia and particularly evocative about Singapore before it became sanitized, and the eternal gulf between westerners and cultures they can never fully penetrate. I found it often a slog to read, despite the spot on descriptions of daily life and after work shenanigans. Part of it is the narrator's world-weary tone, which fast becomes flat and ...more
Neil
Mar 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, pure-novel, asia
Theroux can be SUCH a bore. When he's not on a train complaining, he's somewhere hot...complaining. He's probably 'the author I'd least like to travel with'...or, I suppose, with whom I'd least like to travel.
Which is why this is such a wonderful surprise. The main character is someone you'd like to meet, ideally in some sleazy bar in pre-clean-up Bugis Street. He's got the period, the location, and the people down pat. It's just such a shame that they made such an awful hash of the movie. I tri
...more
Nelson
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Told in three parts (present - flashback - present), this is the story of a 'feller' (the main character's incessant use of this term is incredibly irritating after a time) abroad in Singapore in the 50s and 60s. The novel is almost classically structured, designed to explain how the main character gets to where he is, and why he makes the choice he makes in the novel's closing pages. In terms of plot and structure, the work is exceedingly well-crafted. At times, at the level of the sentence, th ...more
Scott
Nov 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure what type of person would enjoy the book or what it says about me that I do, but I would definatly recommend this book for any white person who has lived in Asia for any significant period of time. It's the best fiction book I've found on the subject who's reason d'etre is not entirely allegorical (Quiet American, Burmese Days) or completly oblique (Ballards forgettable "The Singapore Grip). Basically if you've ever feared becoming the old guy at the end of the bar in wanchai or san ...more
Chris
Jun 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
Maybe it just wasn't the right book for the Christmas season. Maybe a book about a guy from Boston who becomes a pimp in Singapore just doesn't relate. Or maybe I'm more of a prude than I thought. But Saint Jack just wasn't for me.

I worship at the altar of Paul Theroux (see my reviews of his other books), and this was one of his first novels. His writing still stands out even in a less-than-stellar book: "I was known as a pimp, the girls as whores, the fellers as soldiers: none of the names fit.
...more
Arjadi
Jul 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Jack Flowers is an American in exile who fancies himself a living legend while hustling/pimping in Singapore during the 1960s. Now past 50, he's reassessing his life as his options become more limited and his dream of somehow becoming rich becomes less likely. A good, quick summer read with an occasional meditation on "aging" tucked in among Jack's exploits. Even though it was written in the early 1970s, it still holds up as a good time capsule of the Vietnam War era.
Bradley Cox
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite all-time books.
Chris Marsh
Mar 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: singapore-read
Interesting character(s). Atmospheric stories. Doesn't really go anywhere. A pure picaresque novel: first person, low character, gets by with wit, no plot, a series of loosely connected episodes, very little character arc, told with a plainness of language, satirical, just short of criminality, carefree rascality, a sympathetic outsider, untouched by society's false rules of society. Fun read, if you like picaresque novels. Better than Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene.
Frank
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Okay, maybe the fifth star is excessive, but this was a great read.

Similar to Keep the Apidistra Flying, but the main loser is not nearly so depressing.

Perhaps the Casablanca-esque ending isn't really that believable either, but I still really enjoyed this tale of a good man, doing "bad things," and coming to grips with it all.
Clint
Aug 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
This book was alright, but I liked the movie a lot better. I have to say though it's a lot better than a lot of that other ex-pat crap written in that jaded voice to make the reader think he's seen so much cool shit that nothing affects him anymore.
Delia
Apr 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Paul Theroux is one of my favorite authors and Saint Jack is one of the few of his books I hadn't read. It was worth the wait. His characters are flawed, as people are, and so realistic. I love the way he writes.
Tom
Feb 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A 'Favorite'. Excellent expat novel, particularly if you've visited the Far East.
PMP
Feb 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gorgeous.
Jim
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Largely forgettable tale of ex-pat community as seen through the always jaded eyes of Mr Theroux.
Jolene
Meh. If it weren't set in Singapore I wouldn't have finished it. The description of the city's old places kept me going but Jack Flowers is someone I can't relate to.
yengyeng
Watched the movie, read the book. Good stuff.
Vidhya Nair
Poor read. Anecdotal Singapore mentions don't make up for the all over the place storyline & the dragging pointless tale. Give it a miss.
Patricia
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
Wouldn`t recommend it to anyone else! was easy to read but for me a bit boring!! I suppose an interesting description of life in Singapore, but just not my bag!! still I did finish it!! ...more
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more
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“Death rephrases the life of everyone who's near.” 2 likes
“One thinks one is going to the tropics and one finds oneself in the Chinese version of Welwyn Garden City.” 1 likes
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