Post-colonial Malaysia is Theroux territory, charted fictionally in Saint Jack and revisited in The Great Railway Bazaar. The Consul’s File is a journey with a young American diplomat to a “bachelor post” at the uneasy frontier where civilization meets jungle.
The Consul records his stint in Ayer Hitam through a sequence of tales in which he is both observer and participant. As his intimacy with the town grows, so does his motley cast of Asians and exiles: the son of a Cantonese cafe owner, dreaming of a Fuibright one day and a movie contract the next; Margaret Harbottle, writer of travelogues and freeloader extraordinary; an American ingenue dubbed “The Flower of Malaysia,” who flirts with local mores and gets more than she bargained for.
Orphans of empire, the English and Americans find refuge in their down-at-the-heels club -- the scene of an epic tennis match between a Malay prodigy and a despised Japanese salesman - - and diversion on the sexual battlefield. A dependent wife goes on permanent liberty in Bali. A woman anthropologist woos, and subdues, an aborigine chief. And the Consul, on a Singapore rendezvous with a former lover, finds diplomatic relations fatal to passion.
The supernatural flourishes like exotic flora in Ayer Hitam, and its ghostly influence pervades many of the Consul’s tales. From the comic to the bizarre, they build into a sensual evocation of place and character. This is a master storyteller writing at the height of his formidable power.