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Onward Muslim Soldiers

Malise Ruthven, 1 October 1981

Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Deutsch, 399 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 233 97416 4
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Muslim Society 
by Ernest Gellner.
Cambridge, 267 pp., £18.50, June 1981, 0 521 22160 9
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... inevitable collapse. No government at that time and in that region could have held together such a vast expanse of territory. Power passed into the hands of regional governors, royal bodyguards or usurping dynasties. But the failure of Islam at the political level was compensated by its success in creating a normative social system. The lawyers and divines of ...

Dark Pieces on Dark Places

Malcolm Deas, 3 July 1980

The Return of Eva Peron with The Killings in Trinidad 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Deutsch, 227 pp., £5.95, June 1980, 0 233 97238 2
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... says, too, that the themes repeat. There is indeed little relief. What has Providence done to Mr Naipaul, that he should find the world so consistently depressing? Can one think of a place that would cheer him up, that would resist his persuasive invitation to lament? Trinidad, Argentina, Uruguay, Mobutu’s Congo – in the first half of the Seventies were ...

‘I’m English,’ I said

Christopher Tayler: Colin Thubron, 14 July 2011

To a Mountain in Tibet 
by Colin Thubron.
Chatto, 227 pp., £16.99, February 2011, 978 0 7011 8379 0
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... Some writer-travellers – V.S. Naipaul, for instance – like to project themselves as illusionless figures, immune to prettifying, exoticising urges. Colin Thubron isn’t shy about not liking places: he often endures bouts of melancholy on his journeys and writes about the way ‘a little architectural charm, or a trick of the light, could turn other people’s poverty to a bearable snapshot ...

Short Cuts

John Lanchester: #tevezexcuses, 20 October 2011

... player drinks beer, shocker.’ A good line, almost as good as the observation V.S. Naipaul once made to his biographer, that Zara Phillips has ‘a criminal face’. I’d pay good money to hear his uncensored view of Carlos ...

Southern Virtues

Frank Kermode, 4 May 1989

A Turn in the South 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Viking, 307 pp., £14.95, April 1989, 0 670 82415 1
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Allen Tate: A Recollection 
by Walter Sullivan.
Louisiana State, 117 pp., $16.95, November 1988, 0 8071 1481 2
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by John Updike.
Deutsch, 245 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 233 98390 2
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... Naipaul’s epigraph – ‘There is a history in all men’s lives/Figuring the natures of the times deceased’ – warns us that on these journeys through the South of the United States he will always carry with him his own origins in Trinidad; properly studied, those beginnings, as Shakespeare suggests in the following lines, may foretell the hatch and brood of time ...

Other Eden

Amit Chaudhuri, 15 September 1988

Tigers, Durbars and Kings: Fanny Eden’s Indian Journals 1837-1838 
edited by Janet Dunbar.
Murray, 202 pp., £13.95, April 1988, 0 7195 4440 8
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... its elephants and tigers and idols, as a kind of enormous Disneyland for the Western mind, or as a vast trampoline for Western leaps into the obscure and the mystical – such temptations prevent many writers from ever really looking at the country. When one does look, as Fanny Eden does, the only honest initial response may be of puzzlement, a puzzlement ...

In an English market

Tom Paulin, 3 March 1983

Nothing Sacred: Selected Writings 
by Angela Carter.
Virago, 181 pp., £3.50, October 1982, 0 86068 269 2
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... on sticks with a coy little striped candy cock nestling in a bed of pink sugar. Where V.S. Naipaul would have drained his disgust into bad prose, Carter lets the images happen in a manner that has a direct, super-real intelligence and grace. Her account of samurai comics issues from her prefatory statement, ‘In Japan, I learnt what it is to be a ...

Spying on Writers

Christian Lorentzen, 11 October 2018

... files on the dead. When I checked MuckRock, recent requests for files on Philip Roth and V.S. Naipaul were pending. These are paranoid days in America. A couple of weeks ago, a guy who used to work in magazines asked me with a straight face if a journalist friend of mine was a Russian plant. Two of the most celebrated figures of recent months are one of ...


Graham Coster, 26 July 1990

In Xanadu: A Quest 
by William Dalrymple.
Collins, 314 pp., £14.95, July 1989, 0 00 217948 2
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The Gunpowder Gardens 
by Jason Goodwin.
Chatto, 230 pp., £14.95, March 1990, 0 7011 3620 0
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Silk Roads: The Asian Adventures of André and Clara Malraux 
by Axel Madsen.
Tauris, 299 pp., £14.95, April 1990, 1 85043 209 0
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At Home and Abroad 
by V.S. Pritchett.
Chatto, 332 pp., £14.95, February 1990, 0 7011 3620 0
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Great Plains 
by Ian Frazier.
Faber, 290 pp., £14.99, March 1990, 0 571 14260 5
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... you have been changed by it. At the end of An Area of Darkness, his exploration of India, V.S. Naipaul can write that: ‘It was a journey that ought not to have been made; it had broken my life in two.’ Graham Greene, surviving a feverish night in the Liberian interior, records a comparable epiphany: ‘I had discovered in myself a passionate interest ...

Salim and Yvette

Karl Miller, 25 October 1979

A Bend in the River 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Deutsch, 296 pp., £5.50
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... The discussion​ of V.S. Naipaul’s new novel needs to refer to two in particular of his previous fictions. The novella In a Free State depicts – more accurately, glimpses or surmises – a coup in an emergent African country: in this respect, it is like the new novel. But the novel which immediately precedes the new one, Guerrillas, stands closer to it still ...

We’ve done awfully well

Karl Miller: The Late 1950s, 18 July 2013

Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-59 
by David Kynaston.
Bloomsbury, 432 pp., £25, June 2013, 978 0 7475 8893 1
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... His afterlife came later as afterlives do, and is missing from the book. So are Muriel Spark, V.S. Naipaul, and the explosive William Golding. Philip Larkin is present. Not really for his poems as for the tirelessly sardonic and sarcastic bulletins on national life sent in letters to his friend Monica Jones. Larkin’s offendedness was soothed twenty years on ...

Booker Books

Frank Kermode, 22 November 1979

... caviare to the general but have won the respect of professional critics, who are favoured: V.S. Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer, David Storey, Paul Scott, Iris Murdoch, for instance. Beyond that it isn’t easy to see much significance in the list – perhaps there’s a nostalgia for the old Empire (Scott, J.G. Farrell, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, plus Nadine ...

Through the Grinder

Graham Coster, 8 February 1996

The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 523 pp., £17.50, November 1995, 0 241 13504 4
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... suggests an intense, necessary collaboration of travel-writing and autobiography. Where V.S. Naipaul could write of his return to India that it was ‘a journey that should never have been made’, breaking his life in two, the flat verdict on this journey is that it need not have been. Better to have set up the typewriter on some sunny Mediterranean ...

Watch this man

Pankaj Mishra: Niall Ferguson’s Burden, 3 November 2011

Civilisation: The West and the Rest 
by Niall Ferguson.
Allen Lane, 402 pp., £25, March 2011, 978 1 84614 273 4
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... whatever happened in Europe, would have undermined Britain’s dwindling capacity to manage its vast overseas holdings. At the time, however, The Pity of War seemed boyishly and engagingly revisionist, and it established Ferguson’s reputation: he was opinionated, ‘provocative’ and amusing, all things that seem to be more cherished in Britain’s ...


Alex Zwerdling, 15 October 1987

The Failure of Theory: Essays on Criticism and Contemporary Theory 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Harvester, 225 pp., £28.50, April 1987, 0 7108 1129 2
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... intellectuals rather read the most recent modification of reception theory than the latest work of Naipaul or Heaney? Parrinder does not even try to answer such questions because he is so clearly on the other team. He needs to defend his own critical principles and to attack the opposition; and while this strategy allows him to score a number of palpable hits ...

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