The Lowdown: The Rum Diary

If you’ve ever seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you’ll know that the infamous grandfather of gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, was entertaining. He also happens to be into auto-fiction.

Auto-fiction’s an interesting loophole when it comes to writing a novel. You take the best bits of your life, dramatise them, then rename the protagonist so no one can claim your story is libellous, or that you didn’t actually win that Academy Award while riding a motorbike down the side of an erupting volcano.

The Rum Diary contains many elements of Hunter’s personality and life, while remaining fictional enough to keep things very entertaining and a little more conventional than the politically and narcotically motivated journalism he was wont to spout on a regular basis. It tells the tale of a group of American journalists working at a Puerto Rican newspaper, and their various romantic entanglements.

Doesn’t sound much like Thompson’s material, does it? Well, it does have some basis in fact – Thompson himself travelled to San Juan to work on a newspaper, a sports rag that was doomed despite the interesting gonzo spin he’d bring to its pages. While he was there, he absorbed the social environment and, despite being only twenty-two at the time, redrafted portions of his time in San Juan into the novel you now know as The Rum Diary.

It would be careless to have never considered Johnny Depp to play Thompson (or “Paul Kemp”, in The Rum Diary) himself, especially given that he did such a good job in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Reprising his role, he’ll do his best to take as much of Hunter as he can – a lot, given that the two were relatively close in real life – and put it into the film.

But how much has made it into the film? Clearly it’s a more straightforward approach than Thompson’s stream-of-consciousness writing style, which may rub some the wrong way. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the man’s journalism, and I think he has the capability to tell a good story, but a script that focuses on the ideas themselves can’t be all bad , despite running the risk of doing a disservice to the source material.

The film is out today, and I’d strongly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in reading something written by someone who, like many of the great artists in history, managed to create incredible, intelligent things while still being completely insane. In the best way possible, of course.

Take a look at the trailer for The Rum Diary, here.

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