Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

RIP V.S. Naipaul (17 August 1932 – 11 August 2018)

Via Times Select

By Andrew Donaldson

There has been a flood of tributes and career appraisals following the death at the weekend of VS Naipaul, arguably the greatest and most infuriating figure in post-colonial literature. For more than five decades he gave his readers often searing and withering portraits of societies in the developing world.

That honesty earned him severe criticism – and not just for his particular point of view on the colonialism and post-colonialism so unequivocally detailed in his novels and travel writing. He was just as brutal when it came to his own failings as a man, so much so that his violent behaviour threatened to overwhelm his literary reputation.

He spared his biographer, Patrick French, nothing – so much so that the latter’s The World Is What It Is: The Authorised Biography of VS Naipaul (Vintage, 2009) is a gobsmacking page-turner.

Naipaul was fairly open about the humiliation he caused his first wife, Patricia Hale, and the 20-year affair he conducted with Margaret Gooding, a women he regularly assaulted. When the affair began, his editor Diana Athill rebuked him for his behaviour. He told her: “I am having carnal pleasure for the first time in my life, are you saying I must give it up?”

Pleasure meant degrading Gooding in bed. As Naipaul told French: “I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt … She didn’t mind it at all. She thought of it in terms of my passion for her. Her face was bad. She couldn’t appear really in public. My hand was swollen. I was utterly helpless. I have enormous sympathy for people who do strange things out of passion.”

What to read, though, of the 29 books that Naipaul produced? His first collection of short stories, Miguel Street (1959), details the lives of ordinary Trinidadians in a run-down corner of Port of Spain. The novels A House for Mr Biswas (1961), The Mimic Men (1967) and A Bend in the River (1978) are pretty much essential. Of his non-fiction work I recommend The Loss of El Dorado (1969), his India travelogues, An Area of Darkness (1964), India: A Wounded Civilisation (1977) and India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990), Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981) and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (1998).

He was particularly scathing about South Africans in The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (2010). An uncomfortable experience, you could say.

The World is What it Is

Book details
The World is What it Is: The Authorized Biography of VS Naipaul by Patrick French
EAN: 9780330455985
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 

Miguel Street

Miguel Street by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780435989545
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

A House for Mr Biswas

A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522892
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
The Mimic Men

The Mimic Men by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522922
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
A Bend in the River

A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522991
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Loss of El Dorado

The Loss of El Dorado by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522847
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
An Area of Darkness

An Area of Darkness: His Discovery of India by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522830
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
India: A Wounded Civilization

India: A Wounded Civilization by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522717
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
India: A Million Mutinies Now

India: A Million Mutinies Now by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330519861
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Among the Believers

Among the Believers by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330522823
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 

Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330517874
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 

The Masque of Africa

The Masque of Africa by VS Naipaul
EAN: 9780330472043
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 

Please register or log in to comment