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Frank Kermode: The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 by Martin Amis., 10 May 2001

The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 
by Martin Amis.
Cape, 506 pp., £20, April 2001, 0 224 05059 1
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... brilliant writing, they tend to occur in essays on the authors he most respects, in this case V.S. Naipaul. Normally he protects his health and virtue by ranging as far as possible from adverbial conventionality. I made a list of recherché adverbs, of which this is a selection: ‘beamingly upbeat’, ‘lurchingly written’, ‘deeply ...


Frank Kermode, 27 July 1989

The Pleasures of Peace: Art and Imagination in Post-War Britain 
by Bryan Appleyard.
Faber, 367 pp., £12.99, June 1989, 0 571 13722 9
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... fits of journalism is probably the writer’s sense that something must be done to suggest the vast vague context in which all the holding-together is to take place; they are unwelcome emanations of the Zeitgeist. However, once those visitations are over all goes more smoothly. We are given the necessary information about the likes of Hockney, Ted ...


Giles Gordon: Experimental Sideshows, 7 October 1993

... contemporary master writing at the height of his powers’. Precisely. I sometimes think that V.S. Naipaul is probably the last master of classical English prose. The sobering fact is that many of the energetic novelists writing in English from ‘abroad’ seem more inventive in their ways with plot, narrative, character and the rest of the traditional ...

Ways of Being Interesting

Theo Tait: Ian McEwan, 11 September 2014

The Children Act 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 215 pp., £16.99, September 2014, 978 0 224 10199 8
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... unconventional’ and possibly even a ‘sentimental whim’. The novel, according to V.S. Naipaul, ‘is a form of social inquiry’. It’s a nice idea, the novelist as a sort of Leveson figure, calling witnesses and taking submissions from learned counsel, and The Children Act cleaves to it more literally than most. It offers chewy ...

Sly Digs

Frank Kermode: E.M. Forster as Critic, 25 September 2008

‘The Creator as Critic’ and Other Writings 
by E.M. Forster, edited by Jeffrey Heath.
Dundurn, 814 pp., £45, March 2008, 978 1 55002 522 4
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... of an admired author as undeserving of the fullest canonical attention. It so happens that another vast collection of what Max Müller might have called chips from a writer’s workshop has appeared at more or less at the same moment as this one.* It is equally scrupulous though perhaps less arduously discursive. Jeffrey Heath’s collection, animated ...

Elephant Head

Karl Miller, 27 September 1990

India: A Million Mutinies Now 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Heinemann, 521 pp., £17.50, September 1990, 0 434 51027 0
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... Naipaul’s grandfather, a Hindu of the Brahmin caste, left India to work as an indentured labourer in the West Indies. In 1962, Naipaul went to India for a year’s stay which became a book, entitled An Area of Darkness. The title refers to what the country had been for him in his West Indian Hindu enclave ...


Eugene Goodheart, 16 March 1989

The company we keep: An Ethics of Fiction 
by Wayne Booth.
California, 485 pp., $29.55, November 1988, 0 520 06203 5
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... might defend ethically noxious artistic representations in the interests of the imagination. V.S. Naipaul writes admiringly of Trollope’s prejudices, not because they are morally justifiable, but because they belong to his imaginative energy and clarity. ‘I wonder whether anyone anywhere will ever be able again to write with his Mid-Victorian certainty ...


John Lanchester, 5 January 1989

by Anton Shammas, translated by Vivian Eden.
Viking, 263 pp., £11.95, November 1988, 0 670 81619 1
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by Beat Sterchi, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Faber, 353 pp., £11.95, September 1988, 0 571 14934 0
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A Casual Brutality 
by Neil Bissoondath.
Bloomsbury, 378 pp., £12.95, September 1988, 0 7475 0252 8
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... Perhaps Bissoondath will have been warned not to expect too much attention by his uncle, V.S. Naipaul. A Casual Brutality is narrated by Dr Raj Ramsingh, an Indian from the Caribbean island of Casquemada, who has returned home after qualifying in Toronto. He brings with him his wife Jan – who rapidly starts to dislike the island and the extended-family ...

Being all right, and being wrong

Barbara Everett, 12 July 1990

Miscellaneous Verdicts: Writings on Writers 1946-1989 
by Anthony Powell.
Heinemann, 501 pp., £20, May 1990, 9780434599288
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Haydn and the Valve Trumpet 
by Craig Raine.
Faber, 498 pp., £20, June 1990, 0 571 15084 5
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... space as is the older England in time; ‘My Contemporaries’, from Ivy Compton-Burnett to V.S. Naipaul, where the richest, funniest and saddest anecdotes are to be found; and a short fourth section, ‘Proust and Proustian Matters’. In this section Powell’s interest in the social takes at one point the form of a rather dazzling disquisition on food in ...

Embracing Islam

Patrick Parrinder, 4 April 1991

Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 
by Salman Rushdie.
Granta, 432 pp., £17.99, March 1991, 9780140142242
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... his liking. Tackling a major contemporary writer who seems to have settled for quietism – V.S. Naipaul – Rushdie attributes his ‘utter weariness’ to a withering of the heart. Imaginary Homelands is the self-portrait of a brash and quarrelsome writer who wants (and, I should say, deserves) to be loved. ‘Is nothing sacred?’ was his declaration of ...


Elizabeth Lowry: Binyavanga Wainaina, 23 February 2012

One Day I Will Write about This Place 
by Binyavanga Wainaina.
Granta, 256 pp., £15.99, November 2011, 978 1 84708 021 9
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... page. He may admire the spare aesthetic of postcolonial writers such as J.M. Coetzee and V.S. Naipaul, or of the grand old man of Kenyan letters, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, but what he refers to as their ‘stingy prose’ is also an index of what he is writing against. Their pained grappling with questions of conscience is not his natural mode. Though far from ...

Flying the flag

Patrick Parrinder, 18 November 1993

The Modern British Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Secker, 512 pp., £20, October 1993, 0 436 20132 1
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After the War: The Novel and English Society since 1945 
by D.J. Taylor.
Chatto, 310 pp., £17.99, September 1993, 9780701137694
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... about at least one novelist who might be hospitably claimed as a modern British master – V.S. Naipaul, who is briefly referred to as ‘the Trinidadian novelist’. This might place him with such non-British writers as Nadine Gordimer and Patrick White, but he is later included in Bradbury’s alphabetical checklist of British novelists since 1876. It ...

Making poison

Patrick Parrinder, 20 March 1986

The Handmaid’s Tale 
by Margaret Atwood.
Cape, 324 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 224 02348 9
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... invited – and vigorously sustained – the inevitable comparisons with Graham Greene and V.S. Naipaul. In Bodily Harm there was a political moral directed at Atwood’s immediate public, the ‘sweet Canadians’ with their readiness to come forward with food aid, tourist traffic and diplomatic support, for a newly-independent Commonwealth country, with ...

Metaphysical Parenting

James Wood: Edward P. Jones, 21 June 2007

All Aunt Hagar’s Children 
by Edward P. Jones.
Harper Perennial, 399 pp., £7.99, March 2007, 978 0 00 724083 8
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... writers risk the kind of biblical interference that Muriel Spark hazards, or that V.S. Naipaul practises in A House for Mr Biswas, in which the narrative eschatologically leaps ahead to inform us of how the characters will end their lives, or casually blinks away years at a time: ‘In all, Mr Biswas lived six years at The Chase, years so squashed ...

Nine White Men Armed with Iron Bars

Andy Beckett: Postwar Immigrant Experience, 2 November 2017

Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Postwar Britain 
by Clair Wills.
Allen Lane, 442 pp., £25, August 2017, 978 1 84614 716 6
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... nuance of it regardless. She is much better on the other emotional aspects of migration. V.S. Naipaul leaves Trinidad for England in 1950, and as the plane takes off, sees the whole ‘landscape of my childhood’ for the first time, exhilaration and regret running through him. For others leaving the Caribbean, the long sea voyage to Britain arouses ...

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