Critical Context

V. S. Naipaul’s first novels, from The Mystic Masseur (1957) through A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), are set in Trinidad, his birthplace, and are considerably more optimistic than his later work. Naipaul has spent much of his adult life in England, the scene of Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion (1963), but the influence of widespread travels also appears in his novels. The Mimic Men (1967) reveals a less-than-hopeful worldview. Yet it is not until In a Free State, for which he received the Booker Prize in 1971, that Naipaul reveals the depth of his pessimism about mankind and its prospects, a pessimism which continues in Guerrillas (1975) and A Bend in the River (1979).

Born Brahmin Hindu, V. S. Naipaul was born in 1932. He has lived virtually his entire life in societies which were at best indifferent to Hinduism, and all signs of religion are conspicuously absent in his protagonists. Naipaul has no obvious literary antecedents, though some scholars see the influence of Joseph Conrad in his work, an insight he may be acknowledging, though not approving, when he has Bobby say, “You’ve been reading too much Conrad. I hate that book [presumably Heart of Darkness, 1902], don’t you?”