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.