(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Enigma of Arrival is a meditative narrative of the discoveries and changing perceptions of its author as he lives for ten years at a cottage in rural Wiltshire, in England. Learning to see the countryside and its seasonal alterations, and discovering aspects of himself in the people he meets, the writer finds himself feeling a harmony with place that contrasts sharply with the dislocation and estrangement that have marked most of his previous life, both as a child in Trinidad and as a student and eventually a successful writer in England. For the first time, he is able to accept the realities of change and death.

The first of the novel’s five sections, “Jack’s Garden,” tells parts of the story of these ten years. Jack is a man the writer initially sees through his expectation that someone working in his garden in rural England is a figure deeply rooted in his landscape, an emanation of the countryside evoked by English literary tradition—and therefore someone quite unlike the writer himself, who, though he has been based in England for two decades, still feels a stranger there, still plagued by a rawness of his nerves. On the contrary, he learns, Jack has not always lived there. His garden is something he has created himself, his life there a conscious choice, his activities not “traditional or instinctive after all, but . . . part of Jack’s way.” Jack’s garden teaches the writer about the seasons, and Jack becomes an image of a man who has created fulfillment in the place to which he has come. The place is marked by change: Jack dies, new people move in, new farm managers carry out a scheme of drastic modernization, a worker on the new farm murders his wife, others die. Yet though he must learn the falseness of his early judgment that “in this...

(The entire section is 734 words.)

The Enigma of Arrival Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In The Enigma of Arrival, Naipaul turns to the situation of the expatriate who lives as an alien in a traditional society. The narrator, a writer from Trinidad, has come to settle in the English countryside. From his cottage near Salisbury, he ventures forth to look at remnants of the past, prehistoric Stonehenge, deserted farm cottages, and rusting reminders of World War II, and to discover that even this seemingly unchanging landscape and the people who inhabit it are not exempt from change.

The structure of The Enigma of Arrival is more like that of an extremely digressive travel book than a work of fiction. One idea leads to another in the mind of the narrator, who is so close to Naipaul himself as to make it difficult to remember the distinction, and one anecdote suggests another. The connection is thematic and psychological, not chronological. Thus, in the second part of the book, the narrator moves from a journey to England that he has recently completed to his first journey out of Trinidad eighteen years before, while revealing his first impressions of airplane travel, of New York, and of London.

Although there is a great deal of lyrical description of nature in The Enigma of Arrival, Naipaul also tells the stories of people whom he has met along the way, such as Angela, an older, more worldly Italian girl at his London boardinghouse who became one of his closest friends. Late in his Salisbury stay, the...

(The entire section is 531 words.)