The Poet in Exile

Cover of 'The Poet in Exile'
The Poet in Exile
by Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek used to be the keyboardist with legendary group The Doors. This rather slim novel is a bit of a mixture – part-wish fullfillment fantasy, part roman a clef. For a Doors fan, the early, gossipy, bitchy roman a clef part is the most entertaining – you won’t have much trouble guessing who the various pseudonyms belong to. It made me want to get hold of Manzarek’s earlier memoirs of his times with the Doors.
The wish-fullfillment fantasy part is harder to take. There have always been rumours that Jim Morrison faked his own death in Paris in 1971; here Manzarek takes this idea and runs with it.
His character starts receiving mysterious scraps of poetry posted anonymously from the Seychelles; he recognises the handwriting and style as that of Morrison’s. So he jets off to the islands to find his old friend. I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to reveal that he finds the ex-Lizard King alive and thoroughly “gone native” with a georgeous Seychelloise wife and a pigeon-pair of kids. If you’re diabetic, this part is liable to send you into a glucose coma; Manzarek clearly loved and hero-worshipped Jimbo – and it shows, unfortunately.
However, there are some good bits here. A large part of the book is taken up with Jimbo relating how he spent his time inbetween “dying” and ending up in the Seychelles; this turns out to be a spiritual journeying involving gurus and Indian ashrams. In these stretches the writing isn’t too bad – in some other parts, I longed to get out my editor’s pencil, score through whole paragraphs with it and scribble “But where’s the dammed POETRY???”. Manzarek can certainly write very well about what it’s like to search for, and go some way towards, achieving spiritual enlightenment.
But on the whole, I was left a bit disappointed.
The Keyboardist can write pretty well, when he gets on the right subject and into the right rythm. But that doesn’t happen often enough here. He has a new novel, one that has nothing at all to do with Morrison/The Doors, coming out in a few months. I’ll certainly give that a read; without the wish-fullfillment factor intruding, it could be a lot better than this.