The Enigma of Arrival

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although THE ENIGMA OF ARRIVAL is listed as a novel on its title page, the book is an obvious autobiography or literary memoir. The nameless narrator derives from the Indian section of Port of Spain, Trinidad, attends Oxford University on a scholarship, becomes a famous writer and world traveler, and finally settles down in Wiltshire, England, near the old town of Salisbury and the even older monument of Stonehenge. All these fictional facts agree precisely with the details of Naipaul’s own life. Here, he writes about those things he knows best: his boyhood neighborhood in Trinidad and the landscape, flora, fauna, and architecture of southern England--an area made famous by writers such as Thomas Hardy.

THE ENIGMA OF ARRIVAL is divided into four sections: The first and third parts constitute minute examinations of the flinty “downs,” lush “water-meadows,” and ancient cottages and manor houses that define the world of Wiltshire. The narrator here is a kind of Jamesian reporter, cerebral and meditative, analyzing every detail of the landscape and the few rural inhabitants (farm workers, gardeners, chauffeurs). The second and fourth parts are shorter and more personal treatments of the colorful world of Trinidad (which prepares him for the neutral tones of England).

Naipaul is clearly preoccupied with two major themes: the aging process and the international quality of modern life. He sees himself and his “out-of-placeness” as...

(The entire section is 477 words.)