"This is my only story. Now that I am sixty I can tell it." He, the narrator, was a twenty-one-year-old art student traveling the world. She was a countess -- apparently cold, haughty, and inaccessible -- traveling with Haroun, her ambiguous companion. When the young man makes their acquaintance at a hotel in Sicily, he finds himself filled with unexpected lust and playing a part in something he doesn't quite understand. Filled with Theroux's typically effortless but devastating descriptions of people and places, The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro is a brilliant portrayal of aging and decay, a shocking tale of sensuality in a golden age.
The thrill and risk of pursuit and desire mark the accompanying stories of the sexual awakening and rites of passage of a Boston boyhood, the ruin of a writer in Africa, and the bewitchment of a retiree in Hawaii. This is Paul Theroux at his most allusive and wise, writing with a deep understanding of the frailties of men and boys.