The Rum Diary. Fear of getting old. Aged 22

When there’s a book and a film of the book or when there’s a film and a book of a film… I’m always confused. Bet you are too now. What I mean is… is it better to read the book first or see the film?

I just read The Rum Diary by Hunter S Thompson (pictured above) and now I don’t know whether I should see the film or not. Will it spoil the book? I think, in this case, I probably did right reading the book first because it’s seen as a bit of a minor classic and it’s unlikely that the movie will achieve classic status (although I haven’t seen any reviews yet so it could be a masterpiece for all I know). On the other hand, no-one would recommend reading one of those cheesy ‘books of the movie’ before seeing a screen classic. So which should come first?

The Rum Diary involves a journalist named Paul Kemp, who moves from New York to work for a major newspaper in San Juan,Puerto Rico. Set in the late 1950s, it is a tangled story of jealousy, treachery and violent aloholic lust among the Americans who staff the newspaper. The book is written in the kind of everyday language of a diary and so is a quick and easy read in that sense but its subject matter is anything but. There’s a lot about the fear of growing old, climbing the greasy career pole and drinking (there’s a lot and I mean A LOT of drinking). It’s interesting to read the parts about the fear of getting old because Thompson was only 22 when he wrote this book and it was evidently an issue for him even then. He actually committed suicide in 2005 at the age of 67.

I enjoyed the book and now I’m wondering how well the story will transfer to screen. Johnny Depp is playing the main part and was apparently a friend of Thompson’s so hopefully the movie will do justice to the novel.

Generally speaking I think it may be best to see things in the order of creation. If the book was written first, read it before you see the film and vice versa. I suppose seeing a terrible adaptation of a great book doesn’t actually spoil the original work but it does make for a irritating couple of hours at the pictures and every couple of hours counts when you’re getting old. Ask Hunter S Thompson.



8 thoughts on “The Rum Diary. Fear of getting old. Aged 22

  1. I saw The Rum Diary a few weeks ago. i’ve always had a fascination with Thompson, though I’ve never read any of his writing. I thought the movie was good enough for what it was; it stood on its own well, and I didn’t have the novel reading to inform my experience of it. At first I thought it was autobiographical, but I understand it was not.


  2. Hi Paul, thanks for commenting. My understanding was that the novel was autobiographical also and I’ve not heard otherwise. He is an interesting kind of character, I think maybe because of the apparent contradictions. He had some left-ish views and yet he loved guns, for instance. What I liked most was the unease that Thompson had with growing old even from a young age. The final few pages of the book convey so strongly the feeling of a clock ticking by, taking us closer to old age with every tick. Did you read the note he left a couple of days before he killed himself? Pretty strong stuff.

    Hope you carry on contributing here, Paul.


  3. I saw WTBR at the old Valhalla Cinema in Richmond back in the mid 80s. The owner said in an interview that he helped organise Thompson’s one and only visit to Australia in 1976. Thompson spent most of it drunk or high and bragged later that he’d really shafted his Australian hosts.
    There’s a book about the tour, Jon, but good luck reading that. Try this article instead, and this radio interview with the man himself.


  4. I find it’s better to read the book first if you can and then watch the movie. I agree though, I’ve been more than disappointed many times by sitting through a movie that only slightly follows the original story of the novel. Or…and this is the worst…when the ending is different. WTF? I guess there are many out there who don’t read and are none the wiser so the movie industry doesn’t care, it appears.
    I haven’t seen this particular movie yet, but I do plan to. Pretty much anything with Johnny Depp I find is worth watching. He is very diverse and excellent at his craft. I loved him in ‘Blow’ so this sounds like it would be equally good.


    1. Yes I think you’re probably right there. A novel and a movie are such different experiences though so I suppose we shouldn’t expect to feel the same way about both. Let me know what you think of Rum Diaries as soon as you’ve seen it ;I’m really interested to know your views


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