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3 May 1984
Finding the Centre: Two Narratives 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Deutsch, 189 pp., £7.95, May 1984, 0 233 97664 7
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A House for Mr Biswas 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Deutsch, 531 pp., £9.95, May 1984, 0 233 95589 5
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... is a word which our English-speaking forebears have scattered rather too casually about the globe. V.S. Naipaul is an ‘East Indian’, but not from the Dutch East Indies; nor is he an Anglo-Indian, a Red Indian or an Amerindian. He is of Hindu stock, born and bred in the West Indies. His grandfather went to Trinidad from Uttar Pradesh, as an indentured ...

Where Does He Come From?

Sanjay Subrahmanyam: Placing V.S. Naipaul

1 November 2007
A Writer’s People: Ways of Looking and Feeling 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Picador, 193 pp., £16.99, September 2007, 978 0 330 48524 1
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... In a wonderful short story called ‘Haha Huhu’, written in Telugu in the early 1930s, Vishvanatha Satyanarayana (1893-1976) describes an accidental traveller to England: a gandharva, a flying half-man half-horse from classical India, who loses his wings and crash-lands in Trafalgar Square. His encounter with English society as he lies captive in his cage and waits for his wings to grow back is an occasion for Satyanarayana to comment wryly on many things: among them, cultural difference, the nature of scientific progress, and the resources that Indian culture may still possess even though under colonial rule ...

Going Native

A.N. Wilson: Theroux’s portait of Naipaul

13 May 1999
Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship across Five Continents 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 376 pp., £17.99, December 1998, 0 241 14046 3
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... 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 ...

What Naipaul knows

Frank Kermode: V.S. Naipaul

6 September 2001
Half a Life 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Picador, 214 pp., £15.99, September 2001, 0 330 48516 4
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... state. The novelist, conscientiously researching his final masterpiece, The Razor’s Edge, had visited the maharajah and taken notice of Willie’s father, who happened to be doing penance and, on the model of Gandhi, observing a vow of silence in the temple courtyard. Though he comes from a line of priests, Willie’s father is not, as Maugham may have ...

Vicious Poke in the Eye

Theo Tait: Naipaul’s fury

4 November 2004
Magic Seeds 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Picador, 294 pp., £16.99, September 2004, 0 330 48520 2
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... is my middle name Somerset?”’ So begins Half a Life, the strange and chilling novel that V.S. Naipaul published in 2001 – thirty years or so after he first pronounced the novel a dying form. The story begins in the 1930s, in a South Indian princely state, where Willie’s father embarks on a half-hearted and dubious rebellion against the ...

Manager of Stories

Michael Gilsenan: V. S. Naipaul

3 September 1998
Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Little, Brown, 448 pp., £20, May 1998, 0 316 64361 0
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... though no less disconcerting, consider the bare question of the young Malaysian, Shafi, to V.S. Naipaul some twenty years ago: ‘What is the purpose of your writing?’ Naipaul was gathering material for Among the Believers (1981). Safe as houses and translating freely, though completely lacking Heaney’s ...

Short Cuts

Deborah Friedell: First Impressions

16 August 2007
... them. Or last year, when the Sunday Times sent 20 literary agents chapters from old novels by V.S. Naipaul and Stanley Middleton. Cue outrage, embarrassment, ‘we receive 50 manuscripts a day – we do our best.’ Are publishers less perspicacious than they used to be? The first time a version of Pride and Prejudice, called ‘First ...


C.K. Stead: New Zealand Writers

21 November 1991
... perhaps – but in what degree ‘post’? I belonged to one of what I think V.S. Naipaul has called the client cultures. In my last year at school I discovered Allen Curnow’s poetry and his 1945 anthology, A Book of New Zealand Verse, which historians often use as a marker in the establishment of a distinct and self-reliant New ...

Answering back

James Campbell

11 July 1991
The Intended 
by David Dabydeen.
Secker, 246 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 436 20007 4
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by Caryl Phillips.
Bloomsbury, 185 pp., £13.99, March 1991, 0 7475 0886 0
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by Jamaica Kincaid.
Cape, 176 pp., £11.99, April 1991, 0 224 03055 8
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... in the 1950s. Novelists such as George Lamming, Samuel Selvon, John Hearne, Andrew Salkey and V.S. Naipaul were among the first voices from the outposts of Empire to talk back. Not for them ‘clapping his hands and stamping his feet’ in order to communicate, like Conrad’s fireman (‘and he had filed teeth, too’). This black man was articulate ...

Version of Pastoral

Christopher Ricks

2 April 1987
The Enigma of Arrival: A Novel in Five Sections 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Viking, 318 pp., £10.95, March 1987, 0 670 81576 4
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... The Enigma of Arrival: V.S. Naipaul’s title is the one at which Apollinaire enigmatically arrived, for the painting by Giorgio de Chirico. A detail of it illuminates Naipaul’s cover and his book: making their huddled way from a classical quayside (the scene bathed both in shadow and in sun), two stoled figures have their obscured faces towards us and their backs to a wall ...

Tell me what you talked

James Wood: V.S. Naipaul

11 November 1999
Letters between a Father and Son 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Little, Brown, 333 pp., £18.50, October 1999, 0 316 63988 5
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... are congested by aspiration, an aspiration that outstrips their insight. They claim to know themselves, but their selves are too dispersed to be known. It is we who know them, because we know at least something about them: that they are self-ignorant. They are rich cavities, into which we pour a kindly offering: if we are ...
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 ...
4 August 1994
A Way in the World 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Heinemann, 369 pp., £14.99, May 1994, 0 434 51029 7
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... The Gulf of Paria, Naipaul’s mediterrnanean, lies between the coast of Venezuela and the island of Trinidad. The water is almost encircled by land, with only two outlets to the wider ocean. Here, on the Venezuelan side, close to the mouth of the Orinoco, the Destiny lay at anchor, while on board Raleigh watched for the outcome of his last doomed expedition to discover El Dorado ...


C.K. Stead: Truth and autobiographies

27 April 2000
... while I was reading Sir Vidia’s Shadow, Paul Theroux’s book about his 30-year friendship with V.S. Naipaul.2 I don’t think my reaction was unusual. Parts of the negative picture of Naipaul were convincing, but there are obvious inventions and contrivances, especially in the dialogue – in some chapters glaringly ...


Karl Miller

5 February 1987
Another Day of Life 
by Ryszard Kapuściński.
Picador, 136 pp., £8.95, February 1987, 0 330 29844 5
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... what it was like to be there, and to be writing it down. An arch-priest of these mysteries is V.S. Naipaul, whose foreign countries figure as areas of darkness, where coups and crises are glimpsed but may remain inscrutable. Another is Ryszard Kapuściński, an expert in what his new book calls ‘confusion’, who has attended 27 revolutions in the ...

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