By Vanessa V. Friedman
Updated October 16, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Years ago, before he started sleeping well into the afternoon and breakfasting on tequila, Hunter S. Thompson, the original gonzo journalist, wrote a novel but couldn’t find a publisher and relegated the manuscript to his basement. It’s the tale of a young journalist named Paul Kemp who goes to San Juan to be a reporter for the local English-language paper. Once on the island, Kemp doesn’t report much; he drinks rum with other journalists and ponders life, love, ambition, and whether anyone is going to live past 30. The Rum Diary is the kind of book that is mostly interesting (and publishable) in hindsight; on first sight, it’s little more than a fervent first novel by a young man in thrall to both Hemingway and Kerouac. Which is not to say it’s bad, just that if you don’t have a kind of anthropological interest in Thompson, it’s not a must-read. B