Water Music is my first novel.  It was published by Atlantic-Little, Brown in 1981 (though it actually appeared in early January, 1982), and was subsequently published by Penguin in soft cover, now in its 21st edition.  This is a wild ride of a book, the one that taught me to follow my imagination, and it consists of 104 chapters, each a story in itself.  It was three years in the writing.  The back cover of the current Penguin edition has this to say: "Funny, bawdy, full of T.C. Boyle's inimitable flights of imaginative and stylistic fancy, Water Music follows the wild adventures of Ned Rise, thief and whoremaster, and Mungo Park, explorer, through London's seamy gutters and Scotland's scenic highlands--to their grand meeting in the heart of darkest Africa.  There they join forces and wend their hilarious way to the source of the Niger."  I remember that when the book was half-finished at about 250 pp., both my editor and agent advised me to cut out the Ned Rise story, worrying in concert that the novel was getting out of hand; I assured them that I had a plan and that Ned Rise had to stay.  I hope I was right.  In any case, I've never looked back.

The novel opens with a quote, W.S. Merwin's "The Old Boast," in its entirety:

Listen natives of a dry place
from the harpist's fingers


The following excerpt is from the first chapter of the book, entitled "Soft White Underbelly," and it captures the intrepid explorer, Mungo Park, at a distinct disadvantage in the emirate of an African ruler.

Excerpt from Water Music

Water Music Readers' Guide





        At an age when most young Scotsmen were lifting skirts, plowing furrows and spreading seed, Mungo Park was displaying his bare buttocks to al-haj' Ali Ibn Fatoudi, Emir of Ludamar.  The year was 1795.  George III was dabbing the walls of Windsor Castle with his own spittle, the Notables were botchings things in France, Goya was deaf, DeQuincey a depraved pre-adolescent.  George Bryan "Beau" Brummell was smoothing down his first starched collar, young Ludwig van Beethoven, beetle-browed and twenty-four, was wowing them in Vienna with his Piano Concerto no. 2, and Ned Rise was drinking Strip-Me-Naked with Nan Punt and Sally Sebum at the Pig & Pox Tavern in Maiden Lane. 
        Ali was a Moor. He sat cross-legged on a damask pillow and scrutinized the pale puckered nates with the air of an epicure examining a fly in his vichysoisse.  His voice was like sand.  "Turn over," he said.  Mungo was a Scotsman.  He knelt on a reed mat, trousers around his knees, and glanced over his shoulder at Ali.  He was looking for the Niger River.  "Turn over," Ali repeated.
        While the explorer was congenial and quick-to-please, his Arabic was somewhat sketchy.  When he failed to respond a second time, Dassoud--Ali's henchman and human jackal--stepped forward with a lash composed of the caudal appendages of half a dozen wildebeests.  The tufted tails cut the air, beating on high like the wings of angels.  The temperature outside Ali's tent was 127 degrees Fahrenheit.  The tent was a warp-and-woof affair, constructed of thread spun from the hair of goats.  Inside it was 112 degrees.  The lash fell.  Mungo turned over. 
        Here too he was white: white as sheets and blizzards.  Ali and his circle were astonished all over again.  "His mother dipped him in milk," someone said.  "Count his fingers and toes!" shouted another.  Women and children crowded the tent's entrance, goats bleated, camels coughed and coupled, someone was hawking figs.  A hundred voices intertwined like a congeries of footpaths, walks, lowroads and highroads--which one to take?--and all in Arabic, mystifying, rapid, harsh, the language of the Prophet.  "La-la-la-la-la!" a woman shrieked.  The others took it up, an excoriating falsetto.  "La-la-la-la-la!"  Mungo's penis, also white, shrank into his body.

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