by Landeg White
Macmillan Press 1975
V.S. Naipaul is a controversial writer, blamed by West Indian critics for racial arrogance and by their English counterparts for contenting himself with being charming. He produces a book almost every year yet his favourite words are ‘absurdity’ and ‘exhaustion’. He has created a range of characters of Dickensian memorability yet he admits to a constant struggle against contempt. His technical accomplishment and elegance of style are unquestioned yet he is often visibly at odds with the novel form. He re-creates his background in infectiously loving detail yet he ends every book with a celebration of escape.
This book attempts to resolve such contradictions by examining his development as a writer. Drawing on a knowledge of Naipaul’s Trinidad background, and revealing much about his sources, the author offers us a coherent picture of one of our most fascinating novelists.
“ … a fine piece of work, much superior to the other two studies which have been published. White’s book is well-written and well-organised, its analyses are consistently perceptive and its judgements consistently sensible.”
“Mr White is at his liveliest where Naipaul is most challenging. His analyses of A House for Mr Biswas and The Mimic Men, which he sees as culminations of phases in Naipaul’s technical and philosophical development, are high-points which both focus Mr White’s argument and widen the appeal of the book beyond Naipaul enthusiasts to all readers interested in the role and responsibility of the novelist in contemporary society.”
British Book News
“ … more substantial than the modest title allows, Mr White offers us the first extended piece of scholarship on Naipaul. His obvious advantage over other previous commentators lies in his familiarity with Trinidad … With his experience of teaching in several African universities he is well placed to view Naipaul’s achievements in the wider perspective of world history and the aesthetics of the novel … This study contains much that stimulates.”
“While much is gained by White’s close familiarity with the context of the author’s work and of his preoccupations, even more is gained from the slow patient reading of the novels, in which care is taken over sympathies, intended responses, narrative techniques and characterisation … This book is an example of a kind of criticism which is unfortunately dying out in the United States. Carefully worked up, accurate, concerned with being true to its subject, it is addressed to the intelligent student rather than the specialist.”