- Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship across Five Continents by Paul Theroux
Hamish Hamilton, 376 pp, £17.99, December 1998, ISBN 0 241 14046 3
I have been trying to explain to myself how such a book as this held my uninterrupted attention from first to last. I read it almost at a sitting. This was certainly not because of any previous obsession with either V.S. Naipaul or Paul Theroux. True, I regard Naipaul as one of the most enthralling writers of our time, even though the subjects he has covered – India, Africa, the putrefaction of the post-colonial world – are not ones which engage my interest or my imagination. It is him writing about them, rather than these places themselves, which fascinates me. For this reason, I regard as almost his most triumphant book the one which his true disciple, Paul Theroux, thinks marks the great falling-off: The Enigma of Arrival. This is a book about Naipaul having stopped writing. He is living in Wiltshire within a stone’s throw of a large house in which a scarcely-disguised Stephen Tennant is, like England, gathering dust and going to seed. Nothing happens in the book, yet the writing is hypnotic.
Vol. 21 No. 11 · 27 May 1999
What I want to know is why a ‘schoolmaster from Sherborne’ would glance up when he hears V.S. Naipaul use the word ‘sucking’ (see A.N. Wilson’s review of Paul Theroux’s nasty-sounding book – LRB, 13 May). Because he thought Naipaul said ‘fucking’? But then why would Naipaul have said to Theroux: ‘They are fucking your energy.’ Not much point in that.
And how did Theroux know that the man in the corner seat was a ‘schoolmaster from Sherborne’? I have good reason to know that Sherborne comes before Salisbury, so Theroux wouldn’t have seen him get on, and he doesn’t sound like the sort of man who’d care two hoots who his fellow-travellers were. Theroux just wants some innocent stooge to be ‘frankly gaping’ along with himself at the end of his anecdote. A slur on Sherborne and on schoolmasters.
Sturminster Newton, near Sherborne
Vol. 25 No. 2 · 23 January 2003
I’ve been using back issues of the LRB to start the fire in my wood-burning stove, and reread something in each issue before it goes up in flames. Terry Castle was leading my list of nominees for the writer of the most memorable pre-fire pieces, and Alan Bennett has been impossible to ignore. But as of today, the front-runner is A.N. Wilson on Paul Theroux’s book about V.S. Naipaul (LRB, 13 May 1999): ‘Of all the lice on the locks of literature at present crawling about, he is one of the lustiest. He has produced an unforgettably disagreeable example of envy and bile: a portrait of Mozart by Salieri.’
Red Hook, New York