V. S. Naipaul Essay - Naipaul, V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) (Vol. 4)

Naipaul, V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) (Vol. 4)

Naipaul, V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) 1932–

Naipaul, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, and author of travel books, was born in Trinidad and has lived in England since 1950. The winner of several important awards for his fiction, he writes with precision, confidence, and a fine wry humor. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

A travel book by an author of little personality is likely to be plain dull; a travel book by an author with a pronounced personality (like Mr Naipaul) is likely to tell us more about the author than about the country. Heads, the country loses; tails, the author wins.

Mr Naipaul's earlier book on the West Indies hinted pretty strongly at its author's prickly, susceptible nature, the rawness of his nerves, his thinness of skin. In The Middle Passage it was the noise, especially in Trinidad, which most obviously tormented him. In An Area of Darkness it is the public defecation…. There are moments in both books when the reader fears that the author (who has a gift for drawing the reader too into his orbit) is about to be badly beaten up. Mr Naipaul loses his temper with an Indian, and then loses his temper with himself for losing his temper. And, such is the author's absorptive power, somehow the reader feels partly to blame for it. His quick exasperation is tied up with his artist's openness and vulnerability, and unhappily in An Area of Darkness (a generalising title!) he is mostly open to spectacles of human degradation or double-think or colossal inefficiency. The sight of a beggar, a human ruin, or 'the starved child defecating at the road-side while the mangy dog waited to eat the excrement', this arouses pity. But what use is pity?—it soon yields to contempt. Contempt must be fought down—but how, except by learning to feel nothing? And out of feeling nothing, nothing can come.

Mr Naipaul agrees with Malcolm Muggeridge (and a number of other Englishmen) that almost the last true Englishmen are Indians. The epigram flatters neither race. Certainly in his sense of personal outrage when, say, someone is trying to cheat him, Mr Naipaul is very much the Englishman, especially the Englishman during his first few days in the mysterious East….

The determination to remain what he was, to preserve his face, is plain and strong throughout An Area of Darkness, and sometimes, I suspect, it prevents him from seeing other people for what they were. 'All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old….' Mr Naipaul is something of an aesthete, an aristocrat, he has the sensibility of a brahmin, but not the supporting beliefs—or complacency—or callousness. His puritanical honesty, his refusal to be taken in by talk of Indian spirituality, afflicts him like an ingrowing nail. He is hardly ever out of pain. The reader suffers with him. Perhaps that is all we can do in the face of such colossal suffering—suffer a little ourselves, for a very little it will be, relatively.

D. J. Enright, "The Sensibility of V. S. Naipaul" (1964), in his Man Is An Onion: Reviews and Essays (© 1972 by D. J. Enright; reprinted by permission of Open Court Publishing Co. and Chatto & Windus), Chatto & Windus, 1972, pp. 204-11.

V. S. Naipaul is by now recognized as the most talented of those West Indian novelists who have appeared on the literary scene since the publication, in 1949, of V. S. Reid's New Day. Yet Naipaul's true literary stature, and the magnitude of his achievement, are generally obscured by the ultra-traditional guise of his writing, with its Victorian ease and lack of stylistic innovation, and by his reputation as a purveyor of whimsy and patronizing satire….

He does not seek to produce documentary propaganda, but nevertheless sees the act of literary creation as being deeply involved with the desire to produce observations of a quasisociological nature. C. L. R. James, the West Indian historian, has drawn attention to such a phenomenon in a different context by talking of a particular feature of West Indian life—the non-political writer devoted to the analysis and expression of West Indian society. Naipaul seems to be cast in this mold….

Naipaul's finest achievement is undoubtedly A House for Mr. Biswas (1961). It is the story of one man's effort to overcome the wasteland, the derelict land of Trinidad's East Indian community…. The writer's attitude is tender but ironic; there is the inner, sardonic toughness of phrases like "futile with asthma." The impact is attenuated and diluted, yet the tragic undertone to the comic cameo is apparent.

David Ormerod, "In a Derelict Land: The Novels of V. S. Naipaul," in Contemporary Literature (© 1968 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin), Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter, 1968, pp. 74-90.

The position of the ironist in colonial society is indeed a delicate one. [George] Lamming [in The Pleasures of Exile] can see little that is risible in a society whose history is one of underprivilege. One appreciates his point. The early Naipaul is at times the irresponsible ironist, subtle, but lacking in a sensitive participation in the life he anatomizes. If one says that the exercise of irony precludes sympathy, one is merely defining the limitations of irony, and the limitations of any of Naipaul's work which depends solely on irony. So far one agrees with Lamming.

Satire is the sensitive measure of a society's departure from a norm inherent in itself. Since Naipaul starts with the conviction that such a norm is absent from his society, his task as satirist becomes doubly difficult. Not only must he recreate experience, but also simultaneously create the standards against which this experience is to be judged. This explains the mixture of farce and social consciousness which occurs in [The Mystic Masseur and The Suffrage of Elvira]. (pp. 122-23)

If in the early farces an absurd world is presented as real, in The Middle Passage a real world is presented as tragically futile and absurd. The deeper implication of the first two books is that West Indian society, emerging from ignorance and superstition, is peculiarly susceptible to depredation by the fraud and the politician, and by all opportunists who are prepared to exploit the social unease for their personal ends. That Ganesh and Harbans are treated so genially conceals Naipaul's seriousness of purpose. Ganesh, who poses as the defender of Hinduism while it is politic and profitable to do so, completely rejects Indian dress and changes his name to G. Ramsay Muir once he becomes a successful politician. This change of name and dress is always used by Naipaul to symbolize the acculturation of the East Indian to pseudo-western patterns of life, which is something he writes of with bitterness, despair and regret. One should not be misled by his genial tone to overestimate his admiration for Ganesh, the successful fraud. (pp. 123-24)

[If] the impulse behind Miguel Street is similar to that behind The Mystic Masseur, the whole tone is more serious. The farce has become a nightmare. Here one finds it difficult to accept Lamming's description of Naipaul's satire as a refuge and escape from experience. If satire is a means of running away, it is equally a means of fighting: an act of bravery, not cowardice; the confrontation of a nightmare, not the seeking of a refuge. (pp. 125-26)

Sometimes one wonders at Naipaul's hypersensitivity and asks oneself whether the neurosis is completely controlled by the irony. Is not this complete acquiescence with Froude that there are "No people there in the true sense of the world," a formula for evading the complex sympathy which the West Indian experience seems to demand? I stated above that what appears to Lamming as a conscious struggle on Naipaul's part to adopt the standards of a "superior" metropolitan culture, is explicable as a too easy acquiescence with European historians; they assumed that the "native" was an inferior animal and consequently failed to look for positives in his society. Perhaps it is easier to see Trinidad as an historical rubbish-heap and a sociological abstraction; easier to see evidence in every observed and carefully chosen detail of some deep-seated social malaise which justifies one's neurosis; easier than to see the country as a vast Miguel Street of individuals, people in a truer sense of the word than Froude seems to have been aware of, each making demands on one's imaginative sympathy, because of the unique history which each has endured. (pp. 130-31)

[Although] one accepts Naipaul's point that protest literature can become a sterile and stereotyped posturing in the name of blackness, one also realizes that protest against the past is a vital transitional stage in the reconstruction of a sense of personality. Naipaul does not realize that in treating the theme of East Indian acculturation, and the reconstruction of the Indian personality in the New World, he is at one with Negro writers who are also trying to reconstruct personality, and is writing a most vital portion of the sensitive history of the West Indies. Naipaul's Mr. Biswas rebels because his society denies him personality and forces him to live with an inferiority complex and a sense of nonentity. Negro writers, in the Caribbean or America, protest because their society annihilated identity. Both in the case of Mr. Biswas and the Negro of the New World, underprivilege is struggling to build its symbolic house against overwhelming odds.

A House for Mr. Biswas is more profound than anything else Naipaul has written because, for the first time, he is able to feel his own history not merely as a squalid farce, but as an adventure in sensibility. (p. 132)

The Middle Passage relates to the problem of West Indian creative writing, as well as to the writing of West Indian history as an academic pursuit. West Indian history can never be satisfactorily told, he says, because nothing was created in the West Indies, where there is neither achievement, nor a tradition of accepted values. Yet in Miguel Street and A House for Mr. Biswas he tells a vital part of West Indian history, for the books are a sensitive presentation of the history of underprivilege. The worth of his irony is that it enables him to examine his past without any sentimental self-indulgence. We see Biswas as a full human being who is as weak and contemptible as he is forceful and admirable. Irony enables Naipaul to get down to the bare humanity beneath his history. Because he is dealing with his own personal past, his irony does not preclude sympathy but reinforces it. He is able to answer in terms of creative sensibility a question to which he could find no satisfactory academic answer. (pp. 138-39)

Gordon Rohlehr, "The Ironic Approach: The Novels of V. S. Naipaul," in The Islands in Between: Essays in West Indian Literature, edited by Louis James (copyright © 1968 by Oxford University Press; reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc.), Oxford University Press, 1968.

I have always believed that a writer writes one book all his life: whether consciously so or not, his work is of a piece. For this reason the writer is entitled to present as the provisional entity between two covers, which is what any single book is, any combination of writing that he sees as that entity. V. S. Naipaul's grouping together of a short novel, two stories and two fragments of a travel diary [In a Free State] is not a collection of "occasional" pieces but an entity; and I approach it as contiguous with a personal vision that blazed forth in his magnificent novel "A House For Mr. Biswas" a few years ago.

The free state of the title that Naipaul's people seek is, needless to say, an inner kingdom. But they seek it in their various ways, through the poor, crude, ridiculous instruments which are all that daily life has to offer in the various societies they find themselves in….

To borrow a description from another of V. S. Naipaul's novels ("The Mimic Men"), the black people he writes of are doomed to be "mimic men." They try to find meaning for themselves in the values of a foreign popular culture and are gradually imbued with embarrassment for their own identity, since others fail to understand it.

In the brilliant and shocking funny story in this volume, "One Out of Many"—shocking because what one is seeing is the disintegration of personality, Naipaul is past master of the difficult art of making you laugh and then feel shame at your laughter….

I know of no other contemporary novelist who can deal so devastatingly, yet quietly, with the sensation and terror at the core of ordinary encounters.

This book is not his best work; but it is part of an achievement that I believe in the end will show him to have been a great writer. His limitations? They are perhaps unconsciously expressed in a reflection, in the epilogue to this book, on the unknown tomb artist of Egypt: "Perhaps that had been the only pure time, at the beginning, when the ancient artist knowing no other land, learned to look at his own and had seen it as complete."

Nadine Gordimer, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 17, 1971, pp. 5, 20.

Many critics have commented on Naipaul's unique gifts, but they have said little about his unique condition. He is, in his own words, "without a past, without ancestors," "without a tradition," "a little ridiculous and unlikely." His homelessness has produced in him a capacity to create characters of tremendous diversity. This is an age of the national writer; it is very unusual to come across a writer who has no national identity, a stateless artist.

Naipaul's concerns remain constant. He writes of fantasy, slavery, power, empire, exile. The condition of rootlessness, a motif in his Area of Darkness, is a frequent theme in his fiction; and it is the subject of In a Free State. Some of the territory here is new. For the first time, he is writing of an Indian in America; of West Indians in London; British people in Africa. Framed by two personal anecdotes, which serve as prologue and epilogue, the three stories—incidents in three countries—form a sequence and make a large statement about freedom and homelessness, dependency and belonging. The book is Naipaul's most ambitious work, a story-sequence brilliant in conception, masterly in execution, and terrifying in effect—the chronicles of a half-a-dozen self-exiled people who have become lost souls.

Having abandoned their own countries (countries they were scarcely aware of belonging to), they have found themselves in strange places, without friends, with few loyalties, and with the feeling that they are trespassing. Worse, their lives have been totally altered; for them there is no going back; they have fled, each to his separate limbo, and their existence is like that of souls in a classical underworld….

The subject of displacement is one few writers have touched upon. Camus has written of it. But Naipaul is much superior to Camus, and his achievement—a steady advance through eleven volumes—is as disturbing as it is original. In a Free State is a masterpiece in the fiction of rootlessness. France claimed the Algerian Camus. No country can claim Naipaul. It is a demonstration of the odds against him, but certain evidence of the uniqueness of his vision.

Paul Theroux, "To be Without Roots," in Book World (© The Washington Post), December 5, 1971, p. 22.

["In a Free State"] is an extraordinarily penetrating book and a disturbing one….

Naipaul writes about the many psychic realities of exile in our contemporary world with far more bite and dramatic havoc than Joyce brought to that stage Jew Leopold Bloom.

In this new book, one of his very best, he has sharpened and tuned, on five different examples of contemporary wandering, his already prodigious sense of fiction. No one else around today, not even Nabokov, seems able to employ prose fiction so deeply as the very voice of exile. If "our" fiction began with the raw merchants settling into their overstuffed interiors, the brilliance of fiction today would seem to depend on a sense of displacement which so many smart American novelists who have never been put to the actual test have already played with in their more theoretical novels.

What makes Naipaul hurt so much more than other novelists of contemporary exodus is his major image—the tenuousness of man's hold on the earth. The doubly unsettling effect he creates—for the prose is British-chatty, proper yet bitter—also comes from the many characters in a book like this who don't "belong" in the countries they are touring or working in, who wouldn't "belong" any longer in the countries they come from, and from the endless moving about of contemporary life have acquired a feeling of their own unreality in the "free state" of endlessly moving about. All travel is an adoptive consciousness—only Ulysses was transported in his sleep. And it is so much consciousness, "raised" yet unavailing, that makes one's motion and freedom clash with so many other too conscious egos forever crazily on the move. There is a peculiarly contemporary despair in seeing so much exertion of the will mocked by the lack of tradition, assurance, and moral comfort in which we travel….

Naipaul has never encompassed so much, amd with such brilliant economy, with such a patent though lighthanded ominousness of manner, as in ["In a Free State"]. The volume of detail is extraordinary, and so is the sequence of action parodying the fretful trip by car as Bobby confesses his dream of returning, somewhere, out of the rain, to a warm lighted house….

The sinuous conjunction of the talk between the unloving couple in the car with the sudden sharp treacheries of the road and the weather, and above all the dramatic movement, line by line of landscape and action duplicating the mingled ease, boredom, and anxiety of a long trip by car—all this gives "In a Free State" an amazing tense fullness in all it takes in and suggests of the African landscape, the old "settler mentality," the educated African politicians whom Bobby and Linda discuss and whom we never see, the sheer sweating fear of the English and blacks toward each other….

I suppose one criticism of Naipaul might well be that he covers too much ground, has too many representative types, and that he has an obvious desolation about homelessness, migration, the final placelessness of those who have seen too much, which he tends to turn into a mysterious accusation. Though he is a marvelous technician, there is something finally modest, personal, openly committed about his fiction, a frankness of personal reference, that removes him from the godlike impersonality of the novelist so often praised by Joyce—and so much cherished by novelists like Nabokov who angrily deny that they use themselves. Naipaul belongs to a different generation, to a more openly tragic outlook for humanity itself. He does not want to play God, even in a novel. He has associated himself with "history," and does not expect better treatment.

Alfred Kazin, "Displaced Person," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1971 by NYREV, Inc.), December 30, 1971, pp. 3-4.

[The] sad figure of Mr. Biswas lends itself to a vulgar and comic principle of classification of things and people which gives [A House for Mr. Biswas] a conventional centre. In the first place Naipaul's world is one which is devoid of phenomenal and therefore corrosive sensibility. He builds his chronicle around a traditional Hindu family in Trinidad and therefore persuades his readers to identify with an assumption of individual status, of historical context. The inner and outer poverty of Naipaul's characters—while achieving at times memorable pathos—never erupts into a revolutionary or alien question of spirit, but serves ultimately to consolidate one's preconception of humanity, the comedy of pathos and the pathos of comedy. It is this "common picture of humanity" so-called on which Naipaul's work rests. The novel for him, as for many contemporary readers and writers, restricts the open and original ground of choice, the vision and stress of transplantation in the person out of one world into another, the necessity for epic beyond its present framework, or tragedy within its present framework, since the assumption remains to the end a contemporary and limited one of burial and classification, a persuasion of singular and pathetic enlightment rather than a tragic centrality or a capacity for plural forms of profound identity.

Wilson Harris, in Modern Black Novelists: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Michael G. Cooke, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971, p. 38.

Wholly original, [Naipaul] may be the only writer today in whom there are no echoes of influences. (p. 7)

[The] act of writing, the capacity for creation, separates those of Naipaul's characters with an active imagination from those who fantasize. (p. 10)

Creation, in Naipaul's terms, involves perception. The ability to assess oneself in one's setting is necessary if a person is to write well or make anything new; detail must be seen, judgements questioned. With these perceptions, the experience of something sighted, arrives a specific calmness which is resolution. In this calmness is the confident detachment which can result in creation: this still moment, which the creator occupies, makes it possible for the experience to be written about, or painted, or sculpted, given its true shape….

The release that true creation offers in completing a man is a point that is often made in Naipaul's work. (p. 15)

Naipaul's heroes are extremely private souls, sensitive about revealing anything of themselves, even to people who are close, to wives and children. (p. 21)

Imagination helps a man to become whole. Fantasy, which is the expression of a perverse hunger, destroys and degrades a man. This idea occurs, with various illustration, in every one of Naipaul's books. It is related to Naipaul's ideas of grief and religion, ritual, empire, slavery and dependency. (p. 36)

The fact of death stuns various of Naipaul's characters into a mechanical bewilderment which is more fantasy than grief. It is almost as if grief is beyond them; they are not whole enough to experience true loss. Their sadness is compulsive utterance. (p. 45)

Rebellion, flight, danger, homelessness, dependency, fame: they are linked concepts in Naipaul's work, and he gives elaborate expression to them in his essays, travel books and novels. Apart from the concept of fame—a significant omission—these are the themes in his most recent novel, In a Free State. But the people in this book are quite different from Naipaul's other fictional characters: they do not rise; they are uncreative, vulnerable, terrified, dependent, as unlike the rebellious heroes as it is possible to be. It is a book about rebellion's absence, about resignation, a statement about surrender, with a personal, uncompromising act of assertion—Naipaul's own—in the Epilogue. (p. 118)

In a Free State extends Naipaul's ideas of rootlessness and rebellion and the paradox of freedom. The title itself suggests continual aimless movement. The factual Prologue and Epilogue, Naipaul's personal experiences, a traveller's tales, seem to contain a reply to the degradation he dramatizes in the stories. (pp. 123-24)

The action in the Epilogue—it helps to know what Naipaul has seen in The Middle Passage and An Area of Darkness to understand how huge a gesture it is—indicates that he hasn't surrendered himself; but symbolic action is not enough relief, and temperamentally Naipaul is so different from these characters that it is really impossible for his behavior to serve as a model for them or to draw any conclusion other than, urged by conscience, a man can still make himself a rebel by acting. (p. 125)

In a Free State is the first book of Naipaul's in which a fear of death and a preoccupation with failure are considered as being final. In his other fiction—Mr Stone is a good example—thoughts of death and failure produce a moment of vision by feeding the imagination with a means of escape. What confounds and isolates the characters in In a Free State, liberates and involves Mr Stone. It is his most disturbing book. (pp. 125-26)

What is Naipaul's style? Is it those short single sentences of Miguel Street? Can it be found in the long luxuriant paragraphs of Mr Biswas, or the lucid short paragraphs of Mr Stone, or the heavily-punctuated regrets of Ralph Singh?… In each instance Naipaul is making a direct response to his subject, allowing his material to determine his tone. (pp. 131-32)

Compression is Naipaul's forte…. [He] is a writer who places little value on coincidence or suspense. He conceals nothing; his ingenuousness, his avoidance of sarcasm, and his humour—a delight that no essay can do justice to—make him very special among writers; there is no one like him writing today. He is odd in other respects: he has no feeling for the theatre; he has never written a play or a poem or an autobiographical novel; he has neither pandered to the popular taste nor offered the cheap comfort of fictional simplicities. It is evidence of the uniqueness of his vision, but a demonstration of the odds against him, that no country can claim him. (pp. 134-35)

Paul Theroux, in his V. S. Naipaul: An Introduction to His Work, (copyright © 1972 by Paul Theroux; published by Africana Publishing Company, a Division of Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc. and reprinted by permission), Africana, 1972.

Miguel Street's slum dwellers lack education, tradition, culture, and sometimes enough food—but not pride, vitality, humor, free-wheeling imagination, and tenacity. Fortunately Naipaul does not sentimentalize them; they are folk realists about whom he is realistic….

The Suffrage of Elvira (1958),… [one] of his slighter novels, without any well-developed characters or especial richness of theme,… has engagingly idiosyncratic figures, ample comic inventiveness, and the pointed, dead-pan humor through dialogue which is one of Naipaul's most effective and characteristic satirical strategies…. The Suffrage is a farce, not a realistic novel….

With its amiably unprincipled hero Ganesh in inventive quest of success and its ingenuously admiring narrator, Naipaul's first published novel, The Mystic Masseur (1957), is his most delightful effort in pursuit of truth…. Naipaul's indefatigable Ganesh from Trinidad is a successful man because he is shrewd enough to know how to turn "fate" to his advantage. Forever proclaiming that destiny has preordained his successes, he is meanwhile creating them for himself. But Ganesh is very much of our times in not taking personal responsibility for his actions. That is really why the narrator follows his career with such interest….

His concern with how men dodge and face responsibility reappears in A House for Mr Biswas (1961), a good companion piece to the success story of Ganesh. This is Naipaul's longest novel, an almost painfully specific account of the struggles of a poor Trinidadian to make himself matter. And given every possible disadvantage, from an ill-omened birth into a superstitious, impoverished Hindu family, to a scrawny physique and an ill-advised marriage, to a dangerous naiveté about the ways of the world and apparently irremediable poverty, Mr Biswas succeeds. He achieves nothing without pain and acquires nothing without flaws, but he continues to struggle and manages to die content, at forty-six, in his own house. A symbolic house for Biswas and the reader, the house is mortgaged and badly designed and constructed, but Biswas has achieved possession of it and—as Naipaul is really saying, of himself—justified his existence….

The narrator of his Miguel Street (1959) is describing all Naipaul's novels when he says, we "saw our street as a world, where everybody was quite different from everybody else." Naipaul's five novels are peopled by quite singular characters who dwell on a street with universal boundaries. He transmutes the vagaries and quotidian confusions of modern antiheroes into energetic, universalized fiction in the precisely phrased, deftly ironic novels—The Mystic Masseur (1957), The Suffrage of Elvira (1958), A House for Mr Biswas (1961), Mr Stone and the Knights Companion (1963), and The Mimic Men (1967)—which have earned him his impressive list of awards and honors….

Because, except for Mr Stone and the Knights Companion, his novels are set wholly or partly in Trinidad, and he has written two nonfiction books about the Caribbean area, he has gained some reputation as a West Indian writer. Yet Naipaul does not see himself as one. He objects to West Indian writers as inclined to choose "too special" situations, meaningful only to compatriots: any other reader "is excluded; he is invited to witness; he cannot participate."…

Granted the particularity of Naipaul's Caribbean descriptions and the vitality of his dialect, seeing him only as a skillful local colorist or regional sociologist underestimates him. Naipaul's novels are about contemporary man and how he manages to survive and sometimes almost flourish. His books are not confined within their local settings nor, for all their explicitly precise detail, are they tied to literal realism: he finds metaphor more expressive. The local settings are convenient to his ideational purposes. As a society "continually growing and changing, never settling into any pattern" …, Trinidad invites themes of instability and flux, and as a colonial and emergent nation it provides a good setting for problems of dependency and freedom. The narrator of Mimic Men aptly says, "It has happened in twenty countries."… The dominant pressures in Naipaul's fictional world derive from man's precarious existence. He has not only to contend with psychic conflict and cultural fragmentation but to exist in a hard world within an indifferent universe…. At their best, Naipaul's characters are resilient, managing to transcend nonentity by their stubbornness. Naipaul may not willingly suffer people's pretensions, deceptions, and illogicalities, but he can admire their refusal to be the counters of fate or circumstance….

The elusive narrator [of The Mimic Men], whose opinions keep changing under the pressure of his recapturing the past, is a more intellectually and emotionally sophisticated character than Naipaul has created before. His account is not a simple flashback but a process of sorting and regrouping the psychic freight of roughly five periods in his life…. Naipaul thus asks far more of his reader with this book than with earlier ones. Singh [the protagonist] being essentially a humorless man, he also dispenses with truly comic effects (in any case, these were diminishing with each succeeding book). Yet one recognizes a familiar Naipaul….

Singh accepts essentially Naipaul's perspective, according to which we neither come from nor return to a universal scheme of wholeness and harmony and should not plan on finding restorative magical light anywhere. We cannot pretend to any sort of mythic consciousness; its time has long since passed. On the other hand, individual cells can and do clump. Even men in cities, as Singh discovers …, manage to form meaningful units and, more important, manage to grow into operatively unitary personalities, assimilating change as it comes. Real men, Naipaul says once again, can manage with what is given…. Pursuing illusions of a better world on earth is a game for mimic men. One may take an insistence on confronting reality as (provisionally) Naipaul's final stand as a novelist. It does accord with his belief in, and skillful practice of, the novel as an expression of "concern with the condition of men" and "a response to the here and now."…

Harriet Blodgett, "Beyond Trinidad: Five Novels by V. S. Naipaul," in South Atlantic Quarterly (reprinted by permission of the Publisher; copyright 1974 by Duke University Press, Durham, North Carolina), Summer, 1974, pp. 388-403.