Naipaul, V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) (Vol. 13)
Naipaul, V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) 1932–
A novelist, essayist, short story writer, and author of travel books, Naipaul was born in Trinidad of Indian parents and has resided in England since 1950. His early works drew praise for their clear prose style and delicate sense of humor. Critics have lauded his ability to capture with wit and compassion the West Indian dialect and life style. (See also CLC, Vols. 4, 7, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
Robert D. Hamner
Between The Mystic Masseur and publication of In a Free State, the structural organization of Naipaul's several novels has undergone a series of discernible changes. There is a marked difference between the early and late fiction, but the alterations in technique reveal a consistent development. Employing rather traditional plots and standard narrative exposition, he offers little that is innovative in the way of structure. In each book, whether the action is presented in simple, straight-forward narration or through a complex juxtaposition of episodes which assume significance accumulatively, Naipaul very carefully interrelates the various threads of his chosen plot.
Reduced to chronological outline, Naipaul's novels appear disarmingly simple. The basic framework does not rely for its effect on intricate complexity or on any "high seriousness" of action. Naipaul's primary focus is in his characters; all else depends upon them, and in recounting their experiences he is concerned that he tell their story well. Significantly, four of the published novels are presented through the eyes of a participating narrator. This contributes to the immediacy of these books, making the speaker's personality and the pattern of his emotional development an integral factor in the form of the works. At the same time, viewed from another perspective the narrator functions more as a device for continuity than as a fictional person; his point...
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[Naipaul] has become a kind of inspired commando parachuting into the underdeveloped world and writing about the color and people and distress that United Nations statistical reports can never convey. His collected essays, The Overcrowded Barracoon, represent probably the most direct image of the Third World we're ever going to receive. These essays are superior, I think, because Naipaul never loses his novelist's command of experience and detail.
This is precisely what disappoints me about his … India: A Wounded Civilization, a book more about ideas than people…. Instead of uncovering new material … [Naipaul] has largely gutted [another earlier book, An Area of Darkness,] of its central ideas and tightened them into a grand despairing condemnation of his Hindu ancestry….
The Indian's idea of India, Naipaul believes, is a romantic retread of a glorious past which never really existed and has no magical power to solve the subcontinent's festering contemporary problems….
Yet for the West as much as the country itself, India still often suggests benign Oriental Wisdom, Eternal Patience and the timeless pretty scenes of Roloff Beny photography. In India there is a rude but healthy destruction of that dangerous myth. More than images of backlit misty villages and meditation-zonked holy men, Naipual gives us the ultimate image of human uselessness…. (p. 33)...
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The so-called Third World has produced no more brilliant literary artist [than V. S. Naipaul]; but the propagandists and official spokesmen for the underdeveloped nations will find little to encourage them in Naipaul's cold-eyed fictional descriptions and journalistic reports. Where they would proclaim a decent hope and a revolutionary indignation, he sees stagnation, futility, and a sinister darkness as opaque as that which confounds Conrad's Mr. Kurtz and Greene's burnt-out case. His view of native possibilities in lands unregulated by white men seems no less dim than Evelyn Waugh's, though Naipaul's farce awakens fear sooner than laughter, and is informed not by a visitor's quizzical amusement but by a pained, partial identification….
"A Bend in the River" struck me as an advance—broader, warmer, less jaded and kinky—over the much-praised "Guerrillas," though not quite as vivid and revelatory as the fiction of "In a Free State." There, in the two short stories "One Out of Many" and "Tell Me Who to Kill," the cataclysmic inner adjustments forced upon those of the world's poor who immigrate to Western metropolises are sketched with a fond accent and a gaiety of invention rare in Naipaul's rather stern later fiction…. Naipaul has written little that is better [than his "In a Free State"], and little better has been written about modern Africa. "A Bend in the River" is carved from the same territory—an Africa of withering...
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