Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558
Based loosely on V. S. Naipaul’s nonfictional essay “Michael X and the Black Power Killings in Trinidad,” the action of Guerrillas recasts the story of postcolonialism in terms of the relationships between four people on a disturbed West Indian island. The novel opens with a sentence whose tone, eerily out of place, recalls that of other nineteenth century English stories whose ideology creates an ironic subtext: “After lunch Jane and Roche left their house on the Ridge to drive to Thrushcross Grange.” Peter Roche is a man who has gained respect, employment on the island, and press coverage for his first book as a result of his reputation “as someone who had suffered in South Africa.” He works for an American bauxite company (once associated with the slave trade) from which he gets secondhand machinery to support his association with Jimmy Ahmed, a Black-Chinese radical leader. It is to Jimmy’s commune, Thrushcross Grange, that he drives Jane at the start of the novel. Jane is a white female version of what Naipaul elsewhere called a “mimic man,” a person who has mindlessly and inattentively learned to mimic what she hears in print and words. Living vicariously through others, she follows Roche to the island only to be progressively disappointed by his lack of power and authority. She starts, thoughtlessly, a sexual affair with Jimmy that ends only with her brutal rape and murder at the end of the book.
The action of the novel results from the unexamined and unacknowledged consequences of the apparently innocent “drive” to Thrushcross Grange. For Jane and Roche, the visit is the start of the disintegration of their fragile relationship. For Jimmy, meeting Jane is the start of a fevered imaginary encounter with a deranging object of ambivalent desire that he translates into a fictional Clarissa in the hysterically romantic novel he is in the process of writing. For Bryant, one of the poor local youths who lives in the commune, it is the start of his sexual betrayal by Jimmy.
The novel alternates between chapters that depict the action from the perspective of each of the major characters, who view, with varying degrees of insight, the political, racial, and economic problems of the island. The cold journalistic eye that reports the action of the first chapter contrasts with the frenzied confessional yearnings of Jimmy’s fictional self in his letters and novel and with the brilliant chapter in which Meredith interviews Roche on radio. The action of the novel begins with illusion in the possibility of revolutionary change, disperses itself into a cloudy uprising, and ends with a grotesque rape-murder. As the epigraph to the novel, written by Jimmy, suggests, political actions built out of mindless slogans result in personal, communal, and political chaos: “When everybody wants to fight there’s nothing to fight for. Everybody wants to fight his own little war, everybody is a guerrilla.” The sequence of action reflects Naipaul’s conviction that politics is but the extension of human relationships and that the corrupt fantasies that sustain neocolonialism must necessarily be expressed in the corruption of the private relations that engender such fantasies. At the end of the novel, Roche knows that Jimmy has murdered Jane, escapes the island concealing evidence of her existence, and, in the process, necessarily denies connection, knowledge, or memory of her.