counter create hit The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul - Download Free eBook
Hot Best Seller

The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul

Availability: Ready to download

Since V. S. Naipaul left his Caribbean birthplace at the age of seventeen, his improbable life has followed the global movement of peoples, whose preeminent literary chronicler he has become. In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French offers the first authoritative biography of the controversial Nobel laureate, whose only stated ambition was greatness as a writer, in pursu Since V. S. Naipaul left his Caribbean birthplace at the age of seventeen, his improbable life has followed the global movement of peoples, whose preeminent literary chronicler he has become. In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French offers the first authoritative biography of the controversial Nobel laureate, whose only stated ambition was greatness as a writer, in pursuit of which goal nothing else was sacred. Beginning with a richly detailed portrait of Naipaul's childhood in colonial Trinidad, French gives us the boy born to an Indian family, the displaced soul in a displaced community, who by dint of talent and ambition finds the only imaginable way out: a scholarship to Oxford. London in the 1950s offers hope and his first literary success, but homesickness and depression almost defeat Vidia, his narrow escape aided by Patricia Hale, an Englishwoman who will devote herself to his work and well-being. She will stand by him, sometimes tenuously, for more than four decades, even as Naipaul embarks on a twenty-four-year affair, which will awaken half-dead passions and feed perhaps his greatest wave of dizzying creativity. Amid this harrowing emotional life, French traces the course of the fierce visionary impulse underlying Naipaul's singular power, a gift to produce masterpieces of fiction and nonfiction. Informed by exclusive access to V. S. Naipaul's private papers and personal recollections, and by great feeling for his formidable body of work, French's revelatory biography does full justice to an enigmatic genius.


Compare

Since V. S. Naipaul left his Caribbean birthplace at the age of seventeen, his improbable life has followed the global movement of peoples, whose preeminent literary chronicler he has become. In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French offers the first authoritative biography of the controversial Nobel laureate, whose only stated ambition was greatness as a writer, in pursu Since V. S. Naipaul left his Caribbean birthplace at the age of seventeen, his improbable life has followed the global movement of peoples, whose preeminent literary chronicler he has become. In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French offers the first authoritative biography of the controversial Nobel laureate, whose only stated ambition was greatness as a writer, in pursuit of which goal nothing else was sacred. Beginning with a richly detailed portrait of Naipaul's childhood in colonial Trinidad, French gives us the boy born to an Indian family, the displaced soul in a displaced community, who by dint of talent and ambition finds the only imaginable way out: a scholarship to Oxford. London in the 1950s offers hope and his first literary success, but homesickness and depression almost defeat Vidia, his narrow escape aided by Patricia Hale, an Englishwoman who will devote herself to his work and well-being. She will stand by him, sometimes tenuously, for more than four decades, even as Naipaul embarks on a twenty-four-year affair, which will awaken half-dead passions and feed perhaps his greatest wave of dizzying creativity. Amid this harrowing emotional life, French traces the course of the fierce visionary impulse underlying Naipaul's singular power, a gift to produce masterpieces of fiction and nonfiction. Informed by exclusive access to V. S. Naipaul's private papers and personal recollections, and by great feeling for his formidable body of work, French's revelatory biography does full justice to an enigmatic genius.

30 review for The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    How do you solve a problem like Naipaul? I’ll stop the Sound of Music references straight away; but this will be a difficult review to write. Naipaul is a Nobel laureate and is certainly one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Notably irascible and difficult to pin down. Accused of a great deal, including racism and imperialism; more British than the British, a fan of Margaret Thatcher. He wrote some great novels and a good deal of reportage from his extensive travelling. He was an ac How do you solve a problem like Naipaul? I’ll stop the Sound of Music references straight away; but this will be a difficult review to write. Naipaul is a Nobel laureate and is certainly one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Notably irascible and difficult to pin down. Accused of a great deal, including racism and imperialism; more British than the British, a fan of Margaret Thatcher. He wrote some great novels and a good deal of reportage from his extensive travelling. He was an acute observer, especially of ordinary people and their thoughts and feelings. His views have often been controversial and he began writing about political Islam long before most others. He also had a complex private life; marrying Pat Hale, a woman he met at Oxford. He also conducted a twenty year affair with an Anglo-Argentine woman, Margaret; never deciding between them and making contradictory promises to both. His relationship with Margaret was sometimes violent and she was seen with bruising round her eyes on a number of occasions. He admitted in a newspaper interview in the 1980s that he had regularly visited prostitutes for many years in the 1950s and 60s. Pat found out by reading the interview. When Pat was dying in the mid 1990s Naipaul travelled to Pakistan where he met Nadira, a journalist. They fell in love. It is recorded that Naipaul felt Pat wasn’t dying quickly enough. A few days before she died he told her about Nadira and that she would be his new companion. Nadira moved into Naipual’s house the day after Pat’s cremation and they married a couple of months later. Margaret, the mistress, found out about the wedding from the papers. How do we know all of the private details? When Naipaul agreed to allow Patrick French to write his biography he gave him access to absolutely everything, with no restrictions; including Pat’s diaries which detailed her feelings of inadequacy and Naipaul’s treatment of her. All of the skeletons in the cupboard were to be open to view. That is the contrariness of the man, and that is why this biography is so brilliant. The Guardian review sums it up; “Must be the frankest authorised autobiography of anyone alive and in possession of their senses.” Naipaul is a contradiction; he lived in Britain as a struggling writer, experiencing the racism that was commonplace, and in a relationship with a white woman. He arrived in Britain having won a scholarship to Oxford from his native Trinidad. He is a perceptive observer of people and his writing is at times brilliant. Does that excuse his treatment of others? For me, No. But I recognise his sense of being an outsider and not belonging anywhere, his ambivalent relationship with India; changing from quite negative in his early work, to much more positive in later years. Here is not the place to talk about his work; French does that in detail and he is a perceptive analyst. I admired Naipaul’s tenacity and perception, but I wouldn’t like to know him or be in a relationship with him and Pat Hale’s story is so very sad. She deserved better.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence Lanahan

    Upon finishing this book, these are the words I whispered to myself: "What a fucking bastard." Here's how good Patrick French is: I knew exactly, exactly what was going to happen in the last twenty pages, because French had defined Naipaul's character so indelibly by that point. Yet those twenty pages still managed to draw tears. French has assembled an amazing book: meticulous reporting, gripping writing, and one of the most fascinating writers' lives I've ever looked into this deeply. Readers w Upon finishing this book, these are the words I whispered to myself: "What a fucking bastard." Here's how good Patrick French is: I knew exactly, exactly what was going to happen in the last twenty pages, because French had defined Naipaul's character so indelibly by that point. Yet those twenty pages still managed to draw tears. French has assembled an amazing book: meticulous reporting, gripping writing, and one of the most fascinating writers' lives I've ever looked into this deeply. Readers will understand Naipaul as someone with perhaps unmatched intellectual honesty, and emotional dishonesty so deep and rending and disgusting that you close this book wondering whether genius and madness ought to just cancel each other out. In other words, if great artists must be indulged to this degree as they mistreat those around them for the sake of their art, I wonder whether it's better to leave the art unmade and prevent the damage to the lovers, patrons, and families that make the art possible. As far as this biography being authorized, Ian Jack of the Guardian puts it best: "Must be the frankest authorised autobiography of anyone alive and in possession of their senses."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sam Schulman

    I've written a piece on French's book together with Michael Slater's Dickens and Andrew Motion's Philiip Larkin at Templeton's InCharacter.org called Goodish Writers, Bad-ish Men. We have many goodish writers in this country, but few great ones, and V.S. Naipaul is a great writer." - A.N. Wilson Everyone knows one thing about the life of Charles Dickens: the trauma of his childhood stung him into bestsellerdom. The 12-year-old boy whose parents were imprisoned for debt and who toiled in Warren's I've written a piece on French's book together with Michael Slater's Dickens and Andrew Motion's Philiip Larkin at Templeton's InCharacter.org called Goodish Writers, Bad-ish Men. We have many goodish writers in this country, but few great ones, and V.S. Naipaul is a great writer." - A.N. Wilson Everyone knows one thing about the life of Charles Dickens: the trauma of his childhood stung him into bestsellerdom. The 12-year-old boy whose parents were imprisoned for debt and who toiled in Warren's Blacking Factory is father to the man who wrote David Copperfield. But I was ashamed to learn only now, in Michael Slater's new biography, Charles Dickens, that the autobiographical background of David Copperfield was completely unknown to Dickens's huge contemporary fan base - hundreds of thousands of people who bought his novels in their serial form, subscribed to the magazines he published for twenty years, attended the marvelous public readings he gave of his own works, and bought his Christmas books for their friends. More than a year passed after Dickens's death in 1870 at the age of 58 before the first volume of John Forster's Life of Dickens was published, and the facts of Dickens's childhood became known. Slater says that it is hard for us "to register just how sensational all this was to the vast majority of Dickens's readers, so many of whom felt themselves to be on terms of personal friendship with him." Hundreds of thousands learned for the first time that when Copperfield labored in Murdstone & Grimby's warehouse, it was Dickens who wept, and that Dickens's Micawberesque father was the cheerful resident of King's Bench Prison. That Dickens's contemporary audience, still mourning his death, found this knowledge sensational is sensational. I could almost feel sorry for his readers, knowing what I know, as if their ignorance denied them some pleasure In his work. But that's absurd. A vast public managed nevertheless to love Dickens, to feel kinship with him, and esteem him rightly, believing (as he did himself) that he was entitled to a grave in Westminster Abbey among his peers Milton, Shakespeare, and, since last week, Ted Hughes. Of course Dickens concealed other private facts about his life, including one act so low that he never honored it with even a character in his novels. At the age of 45, he decided that his wife no longer deserved his love, and he made her leave their home--her youngest children were then 9 and 6. "To think of the poor matron after 22 years of marriage going away out of her house!" said Thackeray at the time. The chattering classes probably knew about it, but Dickens continued to write his books celebrating the healing of families, the love of young sweethearts and the creation of new homes - while his discarded wife tried to preserve her early letters from her husband in order to prove to the children he tried to estrange from her that there was indeed a time when her husband had loved her. A great majority of us have done discreditable, even cruel things in our lives, even after we have ceased to be children. And the great majority of that majority find it in our hearts to forgive ourselves, and to think more about how we have been injured than the injuries we have made. But it seems to matter more when a writer or artist behaves badly. Why should it? If my dentist loves one of his daughters more than any of his other children, or a Boeing engineer is having an affair with her best friend's husband, it is cruel. But their cruelties don't impair the quality of my bridgework or disturb my tendency to sleep peacefully through take-offs and landings. Why does the bad character of a writer or artist matters so much more? And how does "mattering" work? Big biographies of major authors tend to raise or lower their subjects in the esteem of their publics: Flannery O'Connor, up; John Cheever, not so much. But when there is a big revelation - especially a revelation of weakness or worse - there is a stimulus effect. The reputation of Philip Larkin has never recovered from his friend Andrew Motion's biography, which pointed out repeatedly that he, Motion, though a pretty dreadful poet, is a far better human being than Larkin was. Readers knew about John Cheever's alcoholism and his bisexual priapism from his journals, first published in the same magazine which published his beautiful short stories and from the complaining memoirs of his daughter before Brad Bailey's Cheever biography of last year. The big shock of the year, however, was the "authorized biography" of V.S. Naipaul, by Patrick French: "The World Is What it is." French's book shocked only partly because of the story it told, the real surprise was that Naipaul collaborated so completely with its telling. Readers like me expected the story of the grandson of self-proclaimed Brahmins who had come to Trinidad as indentured laborers in the 1870s; how the failure of his father and the fear of being trapped on a small island drove him to excel in school and win a rare scholarship to an English university; how young Naipaul then struggled to become a self-supporting literary man in 1950s racially super-conscious Britain. Knowing his novels, readers were more delighted than surprised to hear anecdotes of the life behind them - a colonial outsider with talent sufficient to outdo the natives, but with a racial and a caste identity that makes him feel at the same time superior and inferior to those who posses clear title to a world that he yearns for. After graduation from Oxford, he was on the phone with a prospective landlady with a flat to let in London. When she asked him if he was "colored," he answered, "hopelessly!" We are not surprised to see a lot of evidence for his attitude of superiority to the third-world places he visits - India is filthy, his native West Indies are trapped in a contest between groups of former slaves and near-slaves to imitate their former masters. Patrick French is at the ready with the testimony of one left-of-center reader after another to prove Naipual's sympathy with the poor and oppressed despite his reactionary tone: Irving Howe, Joe Klein, Karl Miller and Harold Pinter. But his romantic life! Naipaul reluctantly marries Patricia Brent, his undergraduate girlfriend, and has a long, cold, selfish marriage with her. Almost as soon as he meets her, he forced her to give up her undergraduate acting: she contents herself by imagining the children they are going to have, but never do. He finds what feeble pleasure he can by purchasing sex outside his marriage - he has no "faculty" for seduction - but at the age of 40, discovers passion for the first time with an Anglo-Argentine woman called Margaret Murray. For the next 20 years, he remains married to Pat, while he and his mistress share occasional Elinor-Glyn-style sauna-baths of exotic travel combined with the infliction of pain upon one another and upon the wife left at home. At the age of 50, the Naipauls separated, but when the writer needed the wife - as he did to help him dictate the entire text of his masterpiece, "The Bend in the River" - she came. The day after he dictated the last page of the book to Pat, he decided to move to America with Margaret. But she too is abandoned in time, and someone else, a younger Pakistani woman whom he had known for a few weeks, becomes the "second Lady Naipaul," and has the privilege of helping a sobbing Naipaul scatter Pat's ashes in a wood after she dies of cancer. For me, the effect of reading French's book - controlled, as it was, by Naipaul himself - was unexpectedly to stop me from being able to read him. When French's book was published, I had been reading the better part of Naipual's travel books for the first time. And what I learned from French about Naipaul's private life, and how it impinged on, yet been expunged from his writing, took the pleasure away from me. What mattered to me was not his estrangement from his wife, or how he treated his wife and the Indians he met on their long stay in India, but to find out too much about his artifice. I could no longer enjoy in ignorance what as a reader I thought was my right in his work. What I had just read before the biography was the magnificently funny and vivid Kashmir section of "An Area of Darkness," in which the writer sojourns (by himself!) in a Kashmiri Fawlty Towers on the shimmering lake, with all its humor, mystery and complexity. It now seemed meager compared to the reality that went into its making, which included Naipaul's - and Pat's - entire story up to 1962, his 31st year, when he first went to India, the land of his ancestors. Knowing the truth about how he had made it - the way that he had partially to abandon mother, sisters, country, in order to make his career as a writer, how he had to determine that in order to succeed at the literary ambition that had defeated his father that he had to overcome his father - it made it impossible to go on with his autobiographical novels as well. Patrick French had taken me backstage and showed me the machinery, and I could not recapture the illusion. And more: it annoyed me to learn I had not been an attentive enough reader to realize that something undisclosed that was going on in Naipaul's real life. Should I not have known? It was little comfort to know that I was not alone. Hilary Spurling, the distinguished biographer of a number of artists and writers, told French that Naipaul's "strange character and stranger career, coupled with rumors about his triangular private life, mystified people who knew him almost as much as people who didn't." Still the question remains. What does it matter that Larkin sneered in his letters and conversation (fearfully and fretfully, it seems to me) about foreigners and women, that Naipaul made selfish use of people from the beginning of his life, and no doubt continues to do so now? What does it matter that Dickens knew what it was like to be dependent and abandoned as a boy, but made sure that his wife would suffer the same fate? It is this. The weakness of character of Dickens, Larkin and Naipaul comes from the same source that drives their art (in contrast to Cheever's alcoholism and priapism does not). What drove the three writers to punish - to hurt quite a few people who were close to Dickens and (if French and Naipaul are right) virtually everyone who came within reach of Naipaul - drove them to their desk every day. Without Naipaul's ruthlessness about using others as means not ends, there would be no Naipaul. And Dickens? He gave an interview in 1862 to a young Russian journalist named Fyodor Dostoevsky which Slater guesses Dickens thought would never see the light of day: "He told me that all the good simple people in his novels [like Little Nell:] are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity towards those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to live, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life." This self-knowledge does not excuse Dickens - or Naipaul - for how they seem to have treated others. But if we can't be good - and it seems that we can't - then it's not a bad thing to try to make something out of what is missing in us, or at least to see how others do it. And if we readers are complicitous - well, that's not a bad thing either. So I intend to read Naipaul's "Mimic Men" next, as an exercise in shedding my own more superfluous illusions.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Of late I have become quite infatuated with the books of V.S. Naipaul. I feel that it can be said without hyperbole that the man was a genius, despite the unconcealed shortcomings in his personal life. As such I have been curious to discover what I can about where he came from and the influences that shaped him. This book is about as detailed as a biography as can be created of any single human being. Patrick French had years of access to Naipaul and those who knew him, as well as the voluminous Of late I have become quite infatuated with the books of V.S. Naipaul. I feel that it can be said without hyperbole that the man was a genius, despite the unconcealed shortcomings in his personal life. As such I have been curious to discover what I can about where he came from and the influences that shaped him. This book is about as detailed as a biography as can be created of any single human being. Patrick French had years of access to Naipaul and those who knew him, as well as the voluminous private written correspondence that people used to leave behind before the digital age. The picture it paints is unsurprising to me. Naipaul was a depressed, arrogant, anxious and grandiose man. He was a misogynist who had ill racial feelings towards blacks and Muslims. He turned his back on the humble, culturally claustrophobic island that raised him in search of something more grand. His romantic relationships with women were abysmal. What he was concerned with above all else was becoming "the writer" that he had dreamed about becoming as a young man in Trinidad. I had read Naipaul's own biographical novel about himself before reading this more detailed, objective account. In a way, all Naipaul's works were to some degree the story of where he came from. The stories from his own books are much straightforward and uncomplicated. They report what he wanted to share and discuss the broad topics that he is capable of providing wisdom about. Those books did not delve into the messy details that pervade any public persons inner life. To me that seems better. Although it may not be in style today, I actually prefer to read about ideal types. I was neither surprised or impressed to learn that of the complexity of what Naipaul's real life was like. Although in a sense it is nice to know what is behind the curtain — to confirm what one had easily suspected — I didn't find it to be so revelatory or useful. He was a genius with bad social skills and many personal torments. This is not so unheard of. By far the best parts of the book were the passages where Naipaul himself speaks on the underlying issue that he had spent his life writing about: the painful failures of developing countries. It was interesting to learn how much racism he experienced in England as well, including from people far less accomplished than him in the English language. Once he overcame that though he didn't seem to hold a grudge, nor did he have much sympathy for those who struggled to rise after him. What I found even more amazing in the book was the story of his father. Of Brahmin extraction, he found himself an illiterate laborer in Trinidad. Somehow he managed to teach himself to read and write, rising to become a journalist and even publishing a worthwhile novel. His dreams and talents were ultimately hemmed in by his circumstances. His son reached the heights that fate had denied him. If anything in this book gives a clue as to where Naipaul's genius came from, the story of his father was it. As biographies go, none can be more thorough than this. Although this was a capably written and heroically researched book about a person I am deeply interested in, for some reason I found the level of detail to actually be excessive. Maybe there isn't that much worth saying or remembering about any individual life.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    A lot has been made of how frank this biography is. It’s certainly true that V.S. Naipaul gave his biographer Patrick French access to a huge amount of material, including things that other people would have tried to keep quiet about. For example the racism, the bigotry, the use of prostitutes, the affairs, the betrayals, the occasional violence, the perpetual cruelty. Yes, this is a very frank biography. But what impressed me most about the book is how French succeeded in making Naipaul into a c A lot has been made of how frank this biography is. It’s certainly true that V.S. Naipaul gave his biographer Patrick French access to a huge amount of material, including things that other people would have tried to keep quiet about. For example the racism, the bigotry, the use of prostitutes, the affairs, the betrayals, the occasional violence, the perpetual cruelty. Yes, this is a very frank biography. But what impressed me most about the book is how French succeeded in making Naipaul into a consistent, understandable character. It doesn’t mean that I like him or approve of the things he did, but it means that I understand how he came to be the way he was. French’s depiction of Naipaul’s life is so complete that I feel as if I know the man now. Naipaul’s main motivation is established early on in the book. His family life is chaotic, with his whole extended family sharing one large house and constant bickering between the various uncles and aunts. He feels he has to get out of Trinidad, and to do so he devotes all his energy to winning a rare scholarship to study at Oxford. He wins it, moves to England and meets with racism, which intensifies his obsession with working, harder and harder, to show people he’s the best, he’s V.S. Naipaul the writer, not just the wog that they see. The pattern continues throughout the rest of the book, as Naipaul puts his writing above everything else. He betrays his wife, his family, his friends, the people who help him — he will sacrifice anything to become a great writer. The result is tremendous success, but also extreme loneliness. It’s amazing how, throughout the whole book, there are almost no genuine friendships. Naipaul seems to have lots of connections and acquaintances, but no real friends. He works the literary circles of London, befriending aristocrats and using their spare country houses to get the isolation he needs to work on his books, but when he needs to confide in someone he has no options. One of the most astonishing passages in the book was when Naipaul was having problems with his long-term mistress, Margaret, and the person he went to for support and advice was his wife Pat! She was the only person he could confide in, and the other astonishing thing was that she let him do it. She knew about Margaret for something like 20 years, and yet she let him run off to Argentina to be with her for a few months, and then come back to her when he needed her again. As with Naipaul himself, Pat’s life became a pattern. Early on, soon after they met at Oxford, Naipaul had a nervous breakdown and it was Pat who supported him and saved him. From that point on, Naipaul controlled her completely, not by force but by using his own frailty as an excuse. He stopped her from pursuing her dream of acting because of his own insecurities, and she let him do it. It’s a fascinating and quite disturbing relationship. Naipaul is both dominant and helpless, using his apparent helplessness to lock Pat into a manipulative relationship. At one point he leaves her, but then returns a few months later saying he needs her help, and yet again she lets him come back. She seems to be willing to do anything to support him and especially, as he has more and more success, his writing. In the diary extracts that French quotes, there’s often a sense that she knows her life is being ruined, but that she has come to share her husband’s view that his writing is so important that everything else must be sacrificed to support what she calls his “Genius”. There are plenty of examples in this book of pronouncements from V.S. Naipaul that hardly seem worthy of the label “genius”. For instance, writing to his editor Diana Athill, “Lunacy and servility: they remain the ingredients of the Negro character. I wonder why this isn’t written about, why the Negro writers continue to be so sentimental about themselves.” Or talking about the effect of his affair with Margaret on his wife Pat: “I was liberated. She was destroyed. It was inevitable.” The racism French tries to explain as provocation: Naipaul liking to take extreme positions to provoke a reaction. Some of this is plausible – for example in public appearances or at dinner parties he might want to take on this persona, deliberately aggravating people purely for effect. But there’s no reason to do that in private letters, so I think there’s something more going on. I think it’s bound up with the reason he left Trinidad, the hatred he had learned to feel for the island and, by extension, the majority black population. His family made it clear to him that he should associate with Indians only – one of his cousins recalls the grandmother saying “You can’t associate with niggers.” When Naipaul went to England later, he was anxious to distinguish himself from other Caribbean writers like Sam Selvon and George Lamming. And when Pat tried to help him get a job by appealing to someone in government who helped West Indian immigrants, he said he “would not involve himself with Mr Davies, a latter-day protector of immigrants, nor would he be classified alongside people who climbed off banana boats wearing zoot-suits and wanted jobs in factories. He was V.S. Naipaul, the writer.” The emotional incapacity is astonishing, too. When Margaret gets pregnant, Naipaul just stops answering her letters. She writes to him in distress, asking for his support, and he does nothing. This happens a couple of times. Later, when Pat is dying of cancer, he is faced with the prospect of being with Margaret finally, and dumps her. He then proposes to Nadira, a woman he met in Pakistan. The day after Pat is cremated, Nadira moves into the house Pat and Naipaul had shared for decades. In his day-to-day life, it’s Pat who has to deal with anything unpleasant, while Naipaul just hides, abdicating responsibility. It’s interesting, and a little depressing, that Naipaul did not make much money as a writer for a very long time. Even in the 1970s, when he was already a big name and had won the Booker Prize and was writing columns and appearing on TV, he was still only making £7,600 a year, and for many years Pat was supporting him with her teaching work. In the 1980s, partly due to a new agent, his average income jumped to £143,600, and then of course winning the Nobel Prize made him a very rich man. But for a long, long time, even when he was famous, he wasn’t making that much money. I was surprised that the book ended slightly abruptly, just after Pat’s death in 1996. This also coincides with his marriage to Nadira, so made me wonder if the biography was, in this respect, not completely frank. Perhaps either Naipaul or Nadira refused access to this latest chapter. Or maybe there will be another volume covering his later years – the last word in the book is “Enough”, with a footnote saying “For the moment.”

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    What a shitbag! Naipaul thrives on being a controversialist. This is sage. The author finds the soft areas in our hypocrisies about race and nation states. Naipaul exploits such. Quoting Mr. French, Naipaul's prose remains pellucid. His incorporation of these anxieties is an achievement. The Nobel Laureate's manipulation of such is well past the suspect. I have yet to broach the personal life of Vidia. Not to wax sensationalist, I couldn’t make up this shit. What a shitbag! Naipaul thrives on being a controversialist. This is sage. The author finds the soft areas in our hypocrisies about race and nation states. Naipaul exploits such. Quoting Mr. French, Naipaul's prose remains pellucid. His incorporation of these anxieties is an achievement. The Nobel Laureate's manipulation of such is well past the suspect. I have yet to broach the personal life of Vidia. Not to wax sensationalist, I couldn’t make up this shit.

  7. 5 out of 5

    John

    It must be difficult to write the biography of a writer of V. S. Naipaul's caliber. No living writer in the English language surpasses him in sheer talent, and I am hard-pressed to think of an equal. A reader familiar with Naipaul's flawless prose and witheringly cruel personal observations will inevitably expect similar talent from the writer's biographer. And if Patrick French does not here deliver the impossible, he at least comes close. The purely literary difficulties are compounded by the It must be difficult to write the biography of a writer of V. S. Naipaul's caliber. No living writer in the English language surpasses him in sheer talent, and I am hard-pressed to think of an equal. A reader familiar with Naipaul's flawless prose and witheringly cruel personal observations will inevitably expect similar talent from the writer's biographer. And if Patrick French does not here deliver the impossible, he at least comes close. The purely literary difficulties are compounded by the distasteful nature of the subject. No one without an iron stomach could so completely immerse himself in the life of the most personally loathsome literary figure alive today. I read several reviews of this book before reading it myself, and all of them have marveled at the level of access that Naipaul granted French. In the end he made no demands for changes, either. As far as I can tell, this has been uniformly misinterpreted by the reviewers as courage on the part of Naipaul, or at least a disdain for what people think of him. What the reviewers don't understand -- and what should be obvious after nearly 500 pages -- is that Naipaul revels in his own infamy, and for the past several decades at least has cultivated it in a way that can only be judged deliberate. French is charitable in saying that "his willingness to allow such a book to be published in his lifetime was at once an act of narcissism and humility." This is a charming -- almost Naipaulian -- turn of phrase, but it is only half-true, and by that I mean to say that everything V. S. Naipaul does is an act of narcissism alone, because he does not have a molecule of humility in his body. Indeed, reading this book is confirmation of why Naipaul's racism and colonial apologetics cannot be ascribed to "self-hatred." V.S. Naipaul may be afflicted with many things, but insufficient self-regard is not one of them. If he wanted to "escape" from Trinidad it is only because he regarded himself as so much better than everyone else there. Repeatedly, after lengthy and detail-rich discussions of the pain he caused other people -- more often than not those closest to him -- Naipaul's statements to French are full of self-pity, with pro forma concern for others tacked on in such a way that it is hard to escape the conclusion that Naipaul might be an outright sociopath. The book has several faults: (1) Indulgence of its subject's cranky politics, including his pretensions to "honesty." Edward Said was correct in saying of Naipaul's work that "what is seen as crucially informative and telling . . . - [e.g.,:] accounts of the Indian darkness or the Arab predicament - is precisely what is weakest about it: with reference to the actualities it is ignorant, illiterate, and cliché-ridden." Throughout the book French presents Naipaul as the foe of orthodoxy, and even slags off "political correctness," even though his ideas about Third World backwardness are the real, prevailing orthodoxy on the middlebrow opinion pages and in the State Departments and Foreign Services of the world's richest countries. (2) Overattention to Naipaul's distasteful sex life. It is impossible to write a good biography without discussing his tortured first marriage to Patricia Hale; his long affair with Margaret Gooding; his unceremonious dumping of Gooding in favor of his current wife Nadira shortly after Patricia died (Margaret found out about the wedding from the papers); and even his frequent visits to prostitutes early in his marriage to Patricia (a fact he revealed only late in life, to the newspapers, while Patricia was dying of cancer -- another classic Naipaulian touch, that). The problem is that French gives a pass to -- or at least over-tolerates -- his subject's awful politics and petty bigotry, but makes up for it by documenting this aspect of his personal life in gruesome detail. And indeed no sane person could fail to be appalled, though we could all be spared the fact that, for example, V.S. Naipaul's airhead mistress -- at his instigation -- had taken to referring to the penis of the future Nobel laureate as a Hindu "god" and wrote that she wanted to worship at the temple. (And indeed, by the time you are finished reading this sentence you will know that she also once sent him "a 1:1 scale drawing of his erect penis, done in dark-brown felt-tip; the penis wore sunglasses and a lime-green cowboy hat." Patrick French is responsible for the fact that this image will never leave my head, and now I am responsible for the fact that it will never leave yours.) But all of this is mixed in with rich discussion of the family life that birthed "A House for Mr. Biswas" and other treasures; a pathetic yet ultimately moving portrayal of Patricia Hale; well-done portraits of the others in Naipaul's life (Paul Theroux, author of the vengeful "Sir Vidia's Shadow," comes off more as a starstruck groupie than an actual friend of any kind); and an occasionally harrowing account of the creative process, particularly in the cases of "Guerrillas" and "A Bend In the River." All told, if you're going to read a recent biography, this is the one.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Greta Nettleton

    Author Patrick French has created a tour de force portrait of a great writer whose worldly success and emotional vulnerabilities eventually combined to push him off the deep end as a human being. I read this book for a chance to revisit the fine work that I remember admiring so much when I started to read Naipaul in college in the late 1970s (at the suggestion of a friend and fellow Duke student from Mexico City). A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, The Return of Eva Peron--I still have Author Patrick French has created a tour de force portrait of a great writer whose worldly success and emotional vulnerabilities eventually combined to push him off the deep end as a human being. I read this book for a chance to revisit the fine work that I remember admiring so much when I started to read Naipaul in college in the late 1970s (at the suggestion of a friend and fellow Duke student from Mexico City). A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, The Return of Eva Peron--I still have all the dusty paperbacks, and eagerly pulled them open to compare the text with what was in the biography. It was extremely, even intensely interesting to see French reveal the nuts & bolts of Naipaul's writing techniques and find out how these perfectly crafted works were created. So that's where that line about the Argentinean death squads driving Ford Falcons came from! For that alone, French's book is one of the best portrayals of the writing process I have read. I also remember the tone of pungent cruelty right under the surface of Naipaul's books. I remember tasting the same kind of barbed emotional aggression in Paul Theroux's books and the style went on to become very fashionable at the time. Now I understand how the many "follower" authors mimicked the leader. At the time, in the 1970s, many reviewers and established intellectuals welcomed the abrasiveness as authentic. I did not like the cruelty for its own sake, and never read Theroux's books for that reason. Nevertheless, Naipaul was irresistible in spite of his meanness--he was just so damn smart you had to find out what he had seen and how he would write about it. Now about Naipaul's honesty--it's a twisted variety. He's honest in everything that is angry, cynical or critical. In our world, that is unfortunately a very long list, and this makes him look "good" as a truth teller. However, he is so profoundly dishonest about those places where goodness is real, that he destroyed his heart and soul in the process of reaching the apogee of his career. The book's title sums it all up--You have to be willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to get ahead in this world--that's the way the world is. That's the way Naipaul is. That's why he is famous. We should all think about that for a minute. As to the gossipy part about the three-way marriage (in truth, something beyond your average adultery, more like polygamy jury-rigged for the monogamous west) French has dared to give dignity to a cuckolded literary wife and to her suffering. These women usually get tossed out with the dishwater by macho literary lions (who glorify the thrill of outside passion) and women critics (who can turn on their own kind and be very contemptuous of sensitive women who cannot protect themselves). Some of these characters appear right in the book making condescending observations about Pat Hale's suffering, or cheering on Naipaul's kinky and self-centered sexual preferences as an "awakening" necessary for his literary output. I suspect that he was cruel to Pat because he was and still is profoundly insecure about his masculine pride and he could never forgive her for having witnessed his early weakness. The more I read, the more I was actually embarrassed for him. In the photo of him strutting for Margaret Gooding with one leg up on a railing, he looks like one of those cocky, insecure little guys who would drive a Honda Civic Pocket Rocket with a loud muffler and think he was impressing girls. Ouch. I would suggest that this biography is a conscious, artistic coda for Naipaul's writing career in the same way that Picasso's final self-portrait captures his belated and horrified recognition of the toll his fame has taken on the people around him. Picasso finally let the guilt emerge and looked at the truth of his inner self-loathing. Those two horrible burning eyes stare back at the artist in inexorable recognition of the human wreckage left behind him in his life-long pursuit of dominance, sexual pleasure and fame. We're part of it too--after all, we bought his pictures and fed his glory. In that picture, Picasso's even gone beyond shame--it's only fear left in his future. Luckily for Naipaul, he never had children to torment into committing suicide as Picasso did, so he hasn't quite gotten to that level of horror yet... I celebrate French's courage in letting the facts speak for themselves. At the end, he gives Naipaul and his next wife, Nadira, the rope, and lets them hang themselves. French loves the truth as much as Naipaul.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dmitri

    It is almost as interesting reading about V S Naipaul as it is reading his books. Many were scandalized by his opinions, and oddly some were put off by his personal life. Nothing he did was so beyond the pale as to be truly shocking. A failed marriage, a torrid affair and a later love were all grist for the rumor mill during his lifetime. His sins were vanity, cruelty, selfishness, infidelity and occasional bouts of domestic violence. Certainly not an attractive set of traits, but not unusual on It is almost as interesting reading about V S Naipaul as it is reading his books. Many were scandalized by his opinions, and oddly some were put off by his personal life. Nothing he did was so beyond the pale as to be truly shocking. A failed marriage, a torrid affair and a later love were all grist for the rumor mill during his lifetime. His sins were vanity, cruelty, selfishness, infidelity and occasional bouts of domestic violence. Certainly not an attractive set of traits, but not unusual ones either. In this 2008 award winning biography of the Nobel laureate novelist and journalist, Patrick French delves deeply into Naipaul's life. As an authorized biographer he was allowed full access to Naipaul for interviews and papers, including the diaries and correspondence of his first wife and his mistress. Naipaul believed a writer's life to be a legitimate subject of literature. True to his character, he wanted a full and honest account. Reportedly he did not edit anything, although he was given an opportunity. Of greater interest than personal peccadilloes was his critique of entire countries and cultures. Beyond scrutiny of India and Islam, South America came under withering examination. Seen as a place of graveyards, brothels and genocide, Naipaul was unsparing in his denunciation. Africa was perceived as a continent where inferior whites went to dominate weakened blacks. He had contempt for the subjugated as well as their oppressors. The British Indies, where he was born and raised, were no exception. When England abolished slavery in 1833 they substituted indentured labor in their Caribbean colonies. Naipaul's grandfather arrived at Trinidad in 1894 from India, and later became a successful patriarch. His father was a poor and aspiring writer who married into the family. Naipaul won a scholarship to Oxford against all odds, and became a famous regional author. He went on to chronicle post-colonial conditions throughout the world. The story is both a personal and family triumph. The book covers the years up to Naipaul's second marriage in 1996, within weeks after his first wife's death. It may be a more fair and accurate portrait than the earlier semi-fictional account by Naipaul's literary friend (and sometime foe) Paul Theroux, written during their years of feud. The exhaustive detail included by the author is a challenge. At 500 pages it is as close to a blow by blow account as is reasonable. French does not sermonize or soliloquize, but tells the life of the writer as he saw it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bakunin

    I am a big fan of Naipaul and I was therefore keen on learning more about his development as a writer. This biography focuses too much on his personal life and too little on what really made him tic, intellectually.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Raghu

    This book is a brilliant tribute to one of the greatest writers in English of the past few decades. The narrative pace is good and it is gripping to read. When I finished the book, I thought it is a 'four star' book; but then on reflection, I felt that it was lacking in a few qualities and hence I ended up with one star less. Vidia Naipaul emerges as a very complicated persona - narcissistic, intellectually brilliant, insensitive, original thinker, selfish and honest. In his own words, Naipaul wr This book is a brilliant tribute to one of the greatest writers in English of the past few decades. The narrative pace is good and it is gripping to read. When I finished the book, I thought it is a 'four star' book; but then on reflection, I felt that it was lacking in a few qualities and hence I ended up with one star less. Vidia Naipaul emerges as a very complicated persona - narcissistic, intellectually brilliant, insensitive, original thinker, selfish and honest. In his own words, Naipaul writes to his wife, "..I am the spectator, free of the emancipatory fire, who has no wish to reform the human race..". On the positive side, his fearless thinking and extraordinary abilities to write are well documented. His insight into the societies of the West Indies, Argentina, Africa and some of the Islamic nations in Asia is legendary and is shown through his non-fictional work. Contrary to the image created in the media, he was close to his father, brother, sisters and nephews and nieces. Like Indians from India, he felt the great responsibility and duty to support his sisters and mother through their lives, even though he didn't do it as well as his sisters did. But he was really close only to his sister Kamla. One can see his human side in his grief on the death of his sister Sati and brother Shiva. On the other side, he was exploitative and cruel towards the women in his life - both his wife Pat and Margaret, his lover of two decades. He was depressed often and even attempted a suicide in his twenties. Prostitutes fascinated him and he continued visiting them even after his marriage. During his marriage, he carried on a twenty-year affair with Margaret with the full knowledge of his wife. He was highly class-conscious and had racial dislike for Blacks and Muslims. He was often rude, intolerant and parsimonious to the point of exploiting others. To cap it all, he starts an affair with a Pakistani woman even as his wife Pat was at death's door due to cancer. Patrick French has produced an excellent book and he has done as good a job as one can in writing a biography of a living legend like Naipaul. But he has not thrown enough light on why a competent, ambitious and accomplished woman like Pat would be so servile towards Naipaul all her life. It looks as though Naipaul simply destroyed the self-esteem of any woman he lived with by his sheer brilliance. His lover Margaret also was abused physically and mentally but she still was crazy about him. She also comes off as someone whose self-esteem was in shambles during their relationship. French has not given much insight into the psychology behind these events. He hasn't blamed Naipaul's racism on his upper-caste Hindu origins like most people have done. But neither has he given much psychological insight into Naipaul's intense dislike for calling himself a 'West Indian'. Naipaul considered England his home and later on in life, made peace with India, the land of his ancestors. Also, it is not clear as to how Naipaul has been able to charm Margaret for twenty years through an intensely sexual relationship, even though Naipaul himself admits that he was poorly equipped at seduction and sex. It seems that it was his intellectual brilliance that made Pat, Margaret and even Nadira, his current wife, crazy about being with him. The book contains many of Naipaul's remarks in passing. On the position of Indians in Trinidad, the author quotes Naipaul's father as : .."The difficulty lies in the fact that they are are too much of a majority to assimilate, too much of a minority to dominate..". This applies possibly today to many islamic minority groups in Europe. On Trinidad, Naipaul makes this punishing comments: "..like monkeys pleading for evolution, each claiming to be whiter than the other, Indians and Negroes appeal to the unacknowledged white audience to see how much they despise each other.." On Islam, he says, "..it is innately imperialist, requiring its followers to diminish their native culture.....each country has a quarrel with the modern world;and my own feeling is that Islam, in these countries, is as much looking away as looking back. Is it despair, a recognition of intellectual and scientific incapacity? Is it nihilism? Doesn't this kind of anti-intellectual movement...commit these countries to a continuing dependence on the technology and science of the West? Independence then, leads back to dependence.." This book is a must read for all V.S. Naipaul fans. Those who haven't read Naipaul at all, perhaps should not read this to get an idea of the man.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sesh

    I don't generally read biographies, but this one I could not pass on. I am not a fan of V.S. Naipaul's writing. I could only manage to finish one book of his, "A House for Mr. Biswas". But when I read Paul Theroux's account of is friendship with Naipaul ("Sir Vidia's Shadow") I was intrigued. Naipaul was portrayed as selfish, brilliant, obstinate, proud, unfeeling, shocking, and more. How could you not want to know more about him? French charts Naipaul's personal life through all of its ups and I don't generally read biographies, but this one I could not pass on. I am not a fan of V.S. Naipaul's writing. I could only manage to finish one book of his, "A House for Mr. Biswas". But when I read Paul Theroux's account of is friendship with Naipaul ("Sir Vidia's Shadow") I was intrigued. Naipaul was portrayed as selfish, brilliant, obstinate, proud, unfeeling, shocking, and more. How could you not want to know more about him? French charts Naipaul's personal life through all of its ups and downs, marriages and affairs, books and travels, and tells it with a cold-eyed objectivity that left me wanting to know more. I suspect the book practically wrote itself for with such a complex subject as Naipaul, there is a fantastic lode of richness to be mined, and much of it is right beneath the surface. All the time I was reading, my main interest was in tying the person to his work, or separating them. I didn't come away with a lot of insights, just that writers are all different, and one could be a less than upright character in the sense of personal morality, but could still be a respected writer.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lyn

    Patrick French had full cooperation from Naipaul in writing this warts and all biography. Naipaul is a great writer and a famously difficult person ... that he would so liberally expose himself , his correspondence, as well as the diaries of his first wife underscores his unsentimental respect for evidence (for me the foundation of his non-fiction works). The Naipaul family, early education, Trinidadian and Indian (Hindu) antecedents make an engaging story ... the outcome (including a Nobel Priz Patrick French had full cooperation from Naipaul in writing this warts and all biography. Naipaul is a great writer and a famously difficult person ... that he would so liberally expose himself , his correspondence, as well as the diaries of his first wife underscores his unsentimental respect for evidence (for me the foundation of his non-fiction works). The Naipaul family, early education, Trinidadian and Indian (Hindu) antecedents make an engaging story ... the outcome (including a Nobel Prize in Literature) could not be predicted, but the book lays out the writer's ambition, perseverance, talent and intellect. I have never read any of his fiction ... but will do that now. I thought the book was a good read. I was prepared for a bumpy ride. Yes. His relationship with the Pat Hale, his first wife and his long-term mistress is disturbing, and may finish him off for some folks. Very quickly, after the death of Pat, he remarries. Although, it appears he is lovingly compatible with his second wife, a Pakistani journalist who is presented as a strong, confident personality, it doesn't make earlier relationships easier to digest.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cnap

    This confirmed what I suspected from reading Naipaul all these years and that is that he is an extremely insecure and nervous person who is brilliant at critically picking everything apart. He is able to spot flaws and would be characterized as the teacher who groans with pleasure when finding a mistake on a paper, then feels deep but temporary satisfaction when the red pen makes a big check mark. I feel sympathy for him, also. He is a skinny little black man who made his way in a big white man's This confirmed what I suspected from reading Naipaul all these years and that is that he is an extremely insecure and nervous person who is brilliant at critically picking everything apart. He is able to spot flaws and would be characterized as the teacher who groans with pleasure when finding a mistake on a paper, then feels deep but temporary satisfaction when the red pen makes a big check mark. I feel sympathy for him, also. He is a skinny little black man who made his way in a big white man's city, all the time shaking in his threadbare socks and cheap shoes. One woman (Pat) accepted him so he was able to go on. Every other woman and most men probably averted their eyes when he was in view at Oxford. So as a person he is one of those pitiful, mean, weak, troublemakers who are also difficult and disgusting to deal with, although he wrote brilliantly for a long time. He is lucky to have found the woman from Pakistan! Or who knows how long he would have rattled around alone? Until he died?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    Reviewers were mostly astounded that such a good writer as V. S. Naipaul could be such a horrible person. Though he has always been known as prickly, critics seemed to compete for new adjectives to describe the man who emerges in this book. Michael Dirda's list: "whiney, narcissistic, insulting, needy, callous, impolite, cruel, vengeful, indecisive, miserly, exploitative, snobbish, sadistic, self-pitying and ungrateful." Patrick French, by contrast, earned quite positive labels for his well-writ Reviewers were mostly astounded that such a good writer as V. S. Naipaul could be such a horrible person. Though he has always been known as prickly, critics seemed to compete for new adjectives to describe the man who emerges in this book. Michael Dirda's list: "whiney, narcissistic, insulting, needy, callous, impolite, cruel, vengeful, indecisive, miserly, exploitative, snobbish, sadistic, self-pitying and ungrateful." Patrick French, by contrast, earned quite positive labels for his well-written, warts-and-all biography. Yet critics agreed that Naipaul, despite the portrait of him that emerges here, has one remaining virtue. As the New York Times's Dwight Garner put it, Naipaul "was brave to allow this complicated parsing of his own myth into the world."This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Omer Aziz

    Would do six stars if I could. A literary masterpiece perhaps even outshining its magisterial and peerless subject: V.S. Naipaul, a writer described by the Nobel Committee as "Conrad's heir, and about whom much has been written (even if his books are under-read by today's intelligentsia and students); the writer of Indian ancestry from "the plantation colony of Trinidad," who, across his twenty-five-some books, was able to tell a kind of post-colonial truth no writer had told before, and who cre Would do six stars if I could. A literary masterpiece perhaps even outshining its magisterial and peerless subject: V.S. Naipaul, a writer described by the Nobel Committee as "Conrad's heir, and about whom much has been written (even if his books are under-read by today's intelligentsia and students); the writer of Indian ancestry from "the plantation colony of Trinidad," who, across his twenty-five-some books, was able to tell a kind of post-colonial truth no writer had told before, and who created a wholly new literary form in the process, a blend of autobiography, social commentary, history, and travel. Every sentence in this book feels necessary.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dan Oko

    An extraordinary account of the life of an extraordinary author. You won't like Naipaul anybody for having read French's insightful study of his life and work. If, as the Modern Lovers used to say, nobody ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole; the same cannot be said of Naipaul. Check my Austin Chronicle review here: An extraordinary account of the life of an extraordinary author. You won't like Naipaul anybody for having read French's insightful study of his life and work. If, as the Modern Lovers used to say, nobody ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole; the same cannot be said of Naipaul. Check my Austin Chronicle review here:

  18. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    So far, engrossing. I love Naipaul's work and continue to be fascinated by his misanthropic behavior, apparent self-loathing and egotism, bigotry, and magic way with language. August -- OK, I am still reading this. It's very rich and -- for me -- needs to be ingested in doses. Lots of heavy stuff about Naipaul's twisted relationship with the Argentina woman, sad stuff about his wife Pat (which makes me both frustrated about her and sympathetic), etc. So far, engrossing. I love Naipaul's work and continue to be fascinated by his misanthropic behavior, apparent self-loathing and egotism, bigotry, and magic way with language. August -- OK, I am still reading this. It's very rich and -- for me -- needs to be ingested in doses. Lots of heavy stuff about Naipaul's twisted relationship with the Argentina woman, sad stuff about his wife Pat (which makes me both frustrated about her and sympathetic), etc.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jane E

    What an unpleasant man. What a pity given how well he writes and the broad nature of his literary tastes. It might have been better not to know quite so much about the man. Paul Theroux comes off even worse. This book was purchased in Pashigat, Arunachul Pradesh, a tiny and remote town. Who would think they had a dozen book stands. It proved a great filler for the down time there always is when traveling.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul Garland

    A portrait of V.S. Naipaul, by an author who had access to the letters and papers previous authors did not. Not sure how it was received by Vidia, but it paints a picture of a type of original genius and clarity which is rare and certainly of benefit to the understanding of post-colonialism, migration, history and religion. Taken alongside the biography by Paul Theroux, also a great supplement to help you understand how writers relate to other writers.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bhole

    One of the most brilliant biography of an extra-ordinary writer of our time

  22. 5 out of 5

    Darryl

    Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V.S.) Naipaul (1932-), the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature, is one of the most highly regarded authors of the 20th century. He was born in Trinidad, and his ancestors were part of the Indian migration to this Caribbean island in the 19th century. He was awarded a scholarship to Oxford in 1950, where he met his wife, the former Patricia Hale. After his graduation he dedicated his life to becoming a writer, and was financially supported by Pat during his early Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V.S.) Naipaul (1932-), the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Literature, is one of the most highly regarded authors of the 20th century. He was born in Trinidad, and his ancestors were part of the Indian migration to this Caribbean island in the 19th century. He was awarded a scholarship to Oxford in 1950, where he met his wife, the former Patricia Hale. After his graduation he dedicated his life to becoming a writer, and was financially supported by Pat during his early years of struggle and poverty. He met with critical success starting with his first two novels, The Mystic Masseur (1957) and Miguel Street (1959), and he received international acclaim for A House for Mr. Biswas, his 1961 novel which is arguably his best. All of these novels were based in the Indian community of Trinidad that was familiar to him from childhood, and Mr. Biswas is a fictionalized representation of his father. In the early 1960s, due to disillusionment with life in England, he began to travel abroad, and his later fiction, travelogues, and historical accounts were based in these countries, which included Trinidad and other Caribbean nations, India, Argentina, Uganda and Kenya. He cast a critical and unblinking eye upon the developing world; his books and magazine articles were applauded in Europe and the US, but former friends and colleagues from these lands viewed his work with disdain and a sense of betrayal. His notable later works in this middle period include In a Free State, the winner of the 1971 Booker Prize, India: A Wounded Civilization (1977), A Bend in the River (1979), and Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981). He finally achieved financial success in the 1980s, and he continued to be a productive and controversial writer in this later period. His most notable works were The Enigma of Arrival (1987) and India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990). Pat died of breast cancer in 1996, and very soon afterward he married Nadira, a journalist from Pakistan that he met while Pat was terminally ill. His literary output since Patricia's death has been meager and mediocre, and he wrote his last novel, Magic Seeds, in 2004. Patrick French, an award winning historian and biographer, was given full access to Mr. Naipaul and his papers and those of his first wife, and this extensively researched biography is the result. It follows 10 years after Paul Theroux's memoir Sir Vidia's Shadow, but French's book is more historically accurate and less personal than Theroux's work. French describes Naipaul as a man who is a citizen of the world, but one who is lost in the places that he has called home. He was a member of the Indian minority in Trinidad, which became isolated from and polarized against its black majority, particularly after Eric Williams became the country's first prime minister after independence, and his relationships with his parents and siblings were distant and strained. He appeared to be most comfortable in England, but racism, a growing anti-immigrant sentiment and financial difficulty deeply affected and wounded him. He was even less comfortable in India, as he was unable to see the country's beauty and opportunity in the face of its crushing poverty and filth, a pattern that would be repeated in subsequent journeys to other countries. This is described in the first portion of the book, as French effectively portrays Naipaul as a sympathetic but difficult man, and demonstrates how this influenced his writing. In keeping with his upbringing and rootlessness he was irascible and confrontational, and those closest to him, especially Pat, bore the brunt of his frequent tirades. Naipaul's career would not have been possible without Patricia, who tirelessly served him as a personal aide, confidant, and unpaid editor. However, he was not sexually attracted to her, and he began to seek satisfaction elsewhere, initially with prostitutes, and then in a long standing affair with Margaret Gooding, that destroyed Patricia's spirit once she became aware of it. French provides frequent examples of his dalliances and his difficult relationships throughout the second half of the book. Unfortunately, much of this section becomes gossipy and overly personal, and too many pages are spent in the description of Naipaul's affair. The biography ends with Patricia's death in 1996, as Nadira moves in with Naipaul the day after the funeral. The World Is What it Is is a richly detailed biography of Mr. Naipaul, as an author and a deeply flawed human being. The overemphasis on Naipaul's affairs and scandalous personal behavior in the second half of the book was a distraction, which added little to our understanding of the man. I would highly recommend this for those who are interested in Naipaul, but only marginally for everyone else.

  23. 4 out of 5

    K

    A writer is what he is The writer has laboured much to bring out the biography of a writer who has written autobiographical fiction besides his travel books all his life. Naipaul seem to have always lived a life of poverty, as given in this book too. He is often bailed out by BBC or other British institution when he was about to sink financially, once he is out of Oxford. Spendthrift and whore-monger, he is in trouble perpetually. So he worked in close association with British establishment, it a A writer is what he is The writer has laboured much to bring out the biography of a writer who has written autobiographical fiction besides his travel books all his life. Naipaul seem to have always lived a life of poverty, as given in this book too. He is often bailed out by BBC or other British institution when he was about to sink financially, once he is out of Oxford. Spendthrift and whore-monger, he is in trouble perpetually. So he worked in close association with British establishment, it also seems. Very often he meets good Samaritans in Britain or elsewhere, who pay him in advance to write about Argentine, just before the Falkland war; for an example. And he finds all the connections there to guide him besides a free accommodation and a lover as well. And he does a kind of writing which rubbishes every place he goes to and celebrates the Britain and British. The Sepoy mutiny of India, which terrorised colonials for nearly a century until they left India in 1947, as noted by E M Forster in 1917 in "A PASSAGE TO INDIA'; Naipaul describes as the proof of British resistance. In the Islamic journeys he became more notorious to see a war of religion in the days coming. It was a time when USSR troops occupied Afghanistan and CIA was building Mujjahiddins to fight them and Iranian revolution has taken place. The clash of civilization and settling the score of history is an old theme. The British establishment wanted that kind of books from him at that time. And he wrote what was expected of him. Now the world is only blaming Tony Blair for the war against terrorism which is going wrong and which is looking to escalate by the day. What is really astonishing is, never in this book, Patrick French questions the motives of Naipaul to do this kind of writing after beginning with an innocuous book like Miguel street. Also, he celebrates the Booker prize `In a free state' won, which is a collection of very ordinary stories, later rejected by all the British editors who read it without the name of Naipaul and its title. But questioning the genius of Naipaul might bring the question about writing his biography as well. So Naipaul, with his average talent and much ambition, played into the hands of the vested interests. His writing was not appreciated much by wider audience except for his earliest work. But he found a strong supporter in the British establishment and went on to write the things which see a clash of civilization and a larger war. Time and again Naipaul has felt exasperation for not having become enough British in his work. Paul Theroux mentions him calling the Dutch `the potato eaters'. Understandably, writing life is hard and penurious. And Naipaul minds rendering any other service besides producing words. This is a great weakness in a writer, for it spares him or her the banality of daily life and taking part in activities of the life which reveals a great deal about the people and the society. Without knowing them first hand, and writing out of rage and anger will produce a work which tries to contemplate a war of civilization. Also it calls for financial troubles, which will cripple the independence of the work. His British wife works hard to make connection with upper class British people, who will bail out them often. So a very unlikely literary career becomes viable. Naipaul says he is a man of the new world. He has no clue of the rise of China, however, anywhere in his work, which has over taken the USA as the largest economy of the world. And Nobel Academy mentioned his `prophetic journalism' to award him with The impression one gets from this book is that the myth called Naipaul was the best writer of the last century, though he also was the most despicable man who ever moved on this earth. Both these assumptions have been actively promoted by certain people all these years. Literature at times no more remains an intellectual quest to find the larger truth. It often reduces to become an exercise like the faked orgasm of a prostitute simulated to satisfy the worst sexual anxieties of a wealthy customer. The question comes to mind who this soft-spoken and erudite writer is. He is an aspiring British politician who belongs to an extreme right-wing party. It reduces greatly his risks as a writer, besides elucidating a lot about his subject matter and his writing in this book.one. So the failings are multiple, of Naipaul and the world. A writer is what he is; the world is ever shifting, therefore. Krishna bhatt author

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    The book is excellently written, compelling and shocking in equal measure and a painful reminder of the trauma inflicted on a child of the post colonial racial confusion and colour/class consciousness still painfully evident in Trinidadian society. It achieves this through the recounting of the legendary, pathetic, tragic - albeit prolific - life of VS Naipaul. The book left me with my dilemma over Naipaul fully intact. French quotes Linton Kwesi Johnson on Naipaul 'He's a living example of how The book is excellently written, compelling and shocking in equal measure and a painful reminder of the trauma inflicted on a child of the post colonial racial confusion and colour/class consciousness still painfully evident in Trinidadian society. It achieves this through the recounting of the legendary, pathetic, tragic - albeit prolific - life of VS Naipaul. The book left me with my dilemma over Naipaul fully intact. French quotes Linton Kwesi Johnson on Naipaul 'He's a living example of how art transcends the artist 'cos he talks a load of shit but still writes excellent books. A sentiment with which I entirely agree. VS Naipaul remains a controversial figure because of the contradiction of his snobbery, arrogance and racism with the precision, incisiveness and eloquence of his prose. The book confirmed my contempt for what Nigerian critic Okwui Enwezor describes as Naipaul's 'noxious writings' and further confirmed Edward Said's observation (recently quoted in Joseph O'Neil's article in The Atlantic Sept 2011) in which he pertinently pointed out that ' Naipaul’s account of the Islamic, Latin American, African, Indian and Caribbean worlds totally ignores a massive infusion of critical scholarship about those regions in favor of the tritest, cheapest and the easiest of colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies, myths that even Lord Cromer and Forster’s Turtons and Burtons would have been embarrassed to trade in outside their private clubs.' Naipaul is indeed a both highly gifted and truly odious character who seems to suffer from a virulent strain of compulsive obsessive disorder which he tacitly passes off as evidence of his purported Brahminic heritage. Does it matter that he is so wicked if his books are good.....? Maybe not ... but this is a good read to understand the background of a disturbed post colonial paradox....glad my wife daughter and I walked out of his lecture at UWI in Trinidad a few years ago he really is disgusting and the book reveals why

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    This was and continued to be a bit of slow start -- first you seemingly learned about each sugar cane stalk in Trinidad, each newspaper article written by Naipaul, each letter written to each person in his life, and then finally every final detail about his long-suffering (physically and mentally) wife's death. In the end what I learned is that Naipaul, one of my favorite writers (read A Bend in the River), is really a jerk. He's self-absorbed, masochistic (internally and at times, sexually), re This was and continued to be a bit of slow start -- first you seemingly learned about each sugar cane stalk in Trinidad, each newspaper article written by Naipaul, each letter written to each person in his life, and then finally every final detail about his long-suffering (physically and mentally) wife's death. In the end what I learned is that Naipaul, one of my favorite writers (read A Bend in the River), is really a jerk. He's self-absorbed, masochistic (internally and at times, sexually), repressed (except when with a prostitute or his meek long-standing lover), woefully unhappy where ever he is (until he's left the place, then he glorifies it and wants to return), a miser with money and affection, and yes, brilliant. The biographer, Patrick French, had full access to all of his archives, including all the materials that Naipaul forced his first wife to offer up to a university for his monetary and literary gain. French writes very well and thoroughly and the amount of research, interviews (including Naipaul himself) is staggering. What is most interesting is that despite the not-so-pretty picture himself, Naipaul did not change one word of the manuscript prior to printing. Naipaul admits his numerous foibles, suggesting in the book that it's not him, it's the written word that makes him this way. It's all for his work -- and the people in his life, including those he literally used and abused, would agree and would been his colleague, life, mentor, muse, lover and wife all over again

  26. 5 out of 5

    Warren

    Starred Review. V.S. Naipaul's biographer aims not to sit in judgment of the Nobel laureate, but to expose the subject with ruthless clarity to the calm eye of the reader. In this he succeeds admirably. Descendant of poor Brahmins, born in 1932 in Trinidad and educated in Oxford, Naipaul is haunted by matters of race, colonialism and sex. He is, says award-winning author French (Younghusband), both the racist (against those darker than he) and the victim of racial prejudice, tendencies that come Starred Review. V.S. Naipaul's biographer aims not to sit in judgment of the Nobel laureate, but to expose the subject with ruthless clarity to the calm eye of the reader. In this he succeeds admirably. Descendant of poor Brahmins, born in 1932 in Trinidad and educated in Oxford, Naipaul is haunted by matters of race, colonialism and sex. He is, says award-winning author French (Younghusband), both the racist (against those darker than he) and the victim of racial prejudice, tendencies that come through in his novels and in his treatment of friends and lovers. Haunting this biography are Naipaul's women. His wife, Pat, supported him, overlooked his affairs and his visits with prostitutes, and subordinated herself to his genius; Naipaul gave equally little to Margaret, his mistress. Naipaul and his books may be the subject of this work, but it is these and the other women whom he depended on and took for granted—from his editor to his mother—whose stories will keep that calm eye of the reader glued to the pages of this disturbing biography. 16 pages of photos. (Nov. 7) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. DPL has 4. Pages: 554.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. When asked to explain the symbolism of the bindi he said, "The dot means: my head is empty." And what of Khomeini's fatwa on the author Salman Rushdie? "It's an extreme form of literary criticism." With gems like these, it hard to decide if I will absolutely never or absolutely must read any of Naipaul's writing. The biography is long and sometimes dry. The beginning which details his childhood in Trinidad is, sadly, the best part of the 500-page book. A bigoted, misogynistic racist who beat his m When asked to explain the symbolism of the bindi he said, "The dot means: my head is empty." And what of Khomeini's fatwa on the author Salman Rushdie? "It's an extreme form of literary criticism." With gems like these, it hard to decide if I will absolutely never or absolutely must read any of Naipaul's writing. The biography is long and sometimes dry. The beginning which details his childhood in Trinidad is, sadly, the best part of the 500-page book. A bigoted, misogynistic racist who beat his mistress Margaret and humiliated his wife Pat by telling the New Yorker he was "a prostitute man," Naipaul married his second wife the day after his first wife's funeral! His private writing showcase a disgusting selfishness when he says he wishes Pat would die sooner so he could continue his work and make his transition easier. He alerted Margaret of his second marriage via a newspaper announcement after a 24-year long affair that sometimes left her face a pulpy mess. As the book ends with the succinct closer: "Enough" ; I think I can agree.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    One of the best biographies I've ever read about an enigmatic, polarizing author--at times the equal of V.S. Naipaul's novels themselves. A brilliant character story, and a noble attempt to understand the Nobel Prize winner author, who stands up for the marginalized in his fiction but can act like a racist boor in interviews and talks. French takes us through his colonial boyhood, his difficult years trying to eke out an existence in Oxford and London, and his long, tortured career as a writer a One of the best biographies I've ever read about an enigmatic, polarizing author--at times the equal of V.S. Naipaul's novels themselves. A brilliant character story, and a noble attempt to understand the Nobel Prize winner author, who stands up for the marginalized in his fiction but can act like a racist boor in interviews and talks. French takes us through his colonial boyhood, his difficult years trying to eke out an existence in Oxford and London, and his long, tortured career as a writer and a work of fiction in his own right. As French explains, Naipaul's greatest creation might have been his own identity, which he shrewdly shaped against the people in his life--notably his wife and his long-time mistress, as well as friends such as Paul Theroux--and inserted into his fiction and non-fiction. You don't leave this book liking V.S. Naipaul as a person, but nevertheless have profound respect for his art and his sheer vision as a writer. The 400-odd pages read like barely a 100, and I could have easily read a sequel. A great Preface or Epilogue to his collected works.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mouna

    A masterful and well researched biography that perfectly contextualizes the complexity and nuance of Caribbean people & the Diaspora. A well rounded portrayal of Naipaul, his family the people he influenced and interacted with. It does great job calling Naipaul out and showing him for was he is, and allowing the reader to make their own judgements. I truly appreciate being able to understand him in connection to his work, and how even though he was a contradictory, trash human being he was able A masterful and well researched biography that perfectly contextualizes the complexity and nuance of Caribbean people & the Diaspora. A well rounded portrayal of Naipaul, his family the people he influenced and interacted with. It does great job calling Naipaul out and showing him for was he is, and allowing the reader to make their own judgements. I truly appreciate being able to understand him in connection to his work, and how even though he was a contradictory, trash human being he was able to create moving and important (yet problematic) work. I was especially moved by the stories of the women in his life and I am haunted by his treatment of them. I’m glad French gave so much attention to their influence and their sacrifice. This book not only made fall in love with writers but gave me a newfound admiration for the spirit of writing as well as for Naipaul and his contemporaries.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Wilhelm Weber

    Fascinating how this man becomes a novelist - its hard work on his part all the way up from school and through his college and university years and it seems he was always more driven, than in control. He never really seems to enjoy anything, needs to write and does this and that to experiment. Tragically insecure, unbalanced and without a hold on life, but still very much dominating other people. Especially those who love him. He does have a unique view on things and Patrick French paints a pict Fascinating how this man becomes a novelist - its hard work on his part all the way up from school and through his college and university years and it seems he was always more driven, than in control. He never really seems to enjoy anything, needs to write and does this and that to experiment. Tragically insecure, unbalanced and without a hold on life, but still very much dominating other people. Especially those who love him. He does have a unique view on things and Patrick French paints a picture of him that is vivid and yet never too close. Naipaul remains mysterious even though his writing is starkly lucid. His personality seems too complex to fit one person. Pat is described sympathetically even if Margaret seems oddly out of place and more of a interlude - even if Vaida didn't seem to be able to do without her.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.