Books

‘Theroux the Keyhole’ is Louis Theroux’s warts-and-all lockdown diary

Louis Theroux is used to sending dispatches from the extremes. In Theroux the Keyhole, his gaze turns inward.

Louis Theroux has entertained, enlightened, and sometimes shocked us for more than two decades now by beaming in documentaries from all over the world. In his latest book Theroux the Keyhole: Diaries of a Grounded Documentary Maker [Pan Macmillan] he welcomes the world into his home — which, like most of the world in the last year and a half — was just about the only place he could be.

If you’re familiar with Theroux’s work, you know that experience can be awkward (as you’ll discover in the book, his kids would call it “cringe”). But for all his apparent diffidence, he’s not one to shy away from the tension that permeates human relationships, no matter who or what the subject is. In exhuming his innermost thoughts and habits during London’s interminable lockdowns throughout the pandemic, he stays true to form. The only difference is that he takes centre-stage.

Louis Theroux

The perspective that Theroux creates in his diary is unfiltered. From the get-go, the scene is eminently relatable for many — bored kids attempting to meaningfully engage with homeschooling while the author “…reflects on the surprising violence of what I’m feeling and the strangeness that the simple act of supervising schoolwork from home should be quite so crazy-making.”

The diary kicks off in mid-March, 2020. At that moment, much of the world was on the precipice of the unknown. As it transpired, it was just the beginning of a period of lockdowns that swept the globe. Like in Australia, Theroux’s London was gripped by the sheer weirdness of it all: empty shelves at the supermarkets, the news reports getting more dramatic by the day.

As the screws of lockdown turned, however, two habits became crutches for Theroux: alcohol and exercise. Joe Wicks emerged as a YouTube exercise guru that helped many an exercise-starved person get through the lockdown. Theroux makes it clear that his endorphin-releasing workouts became essential.

The other was bourbon. And gin and tonic. And red wine. Did I mention prosecco? He says that “Alcohol — the non-board-certified Dr Ink — has been my mental health practitioner of choice going back twenty-five years or more.” And if months on end of lockdown won’t test your mental health, nothing will.

Theroux the Keyhole book cover

Being a diary, the nature of the writing is a blend of the confessional mixed with self-analysis. Many times throughout, Theroux wonders if he’s overdoing the booze, or maintaining a healthy enough connection with his wife, Nancy, or if his career is going in the right direction.

He’s also unafraid to interrogate his own emotions and bring them into the light. In one example, he goes into detail about the unjustified resentment he felt towards his mother and stepfather after they visited for the first time in months.

At another time, while stealing a moment of solitude: “…trying to remind myself that every moment with my children will one day feel like a treasure to look back on, knowing it was true, and at the same time not really persuading myself.” 

Just like the internal monologues (if you have one, that is) that run through our day-to-day lives, these moments of epiphany emerge seemingly spontaneously. And though he eventually confesses to being “…embarrassed at how much of what is on display in these pages is pain and arguing and me being a dick,” these flickers of insight run like a life-sustaining thread through Theroux’s year of captivity.

His ability to dissect the emotional complexities of modern family life with unflinching honesty makes Theroux the Keyhole well worth a read and a fascinating document of this unprecedented era.

Theroux the Keyhole: Diaries of a Grounded Documentary Maker is out now via Pan Macmillan.