V. S. Naipaul Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

V. S. Naipaul (ni-POL) is a rarity among writers in that he enjoys equal recognition for his novels and for his works of nonfiction. Indeed, had Naipaul never published a novel, his works of nonfiction would in themselves be sufficient to ensure his reputation as a major writer. As a writer of nonfiction, Naipaul has specialized in a distinctive blend of travelogue, reportage, and autobiography, offering penetrating accounts of regions as diverse as his native Trinidad, India (the home of his ancestors and the subject of several of his books), Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the American South.

Naipaul is a prolific writer, and, as a journalist and fiction editor for the New Statesman, he wrote a considerable number of articles, book reviews, and short stories for a variety of magazines in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Most of these have not been collected in any form, but A Flag on the Island (1967) contains some of Naipaul’s stories on the impact of Christianity on Hindus, culture clashes between boardinghouse tenants and owners, and even the cleverness of West Indian business practices. Literary Occasions (2003) collects his literary essays and reviews.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In his own author’s note to the Penguin editions of his books, V. S. Naipaul, who began to write in London in 1954, states, “He has followed no other profession.” In Naipaul: An Introduction to His Work, Paul Theroux describes Naipaul as completely dedicated to his art. Naipaul’s characters Ganesh (The Mystic Masseur), Biswas (A House for Mr. Biswas), Ralph Kirpal Singh (The Mimic Men), and Mr. Stone (Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion) are all writers who, like Naipaul himself, participate in the “thrilling, tedious struggle with the agony and discouraging, exhilarating process of making a book.” Naipaul considers extensive travel essential to sustaining his writing and to releasing his imagination from deadeningly familiar scenes.

Starting his career as a comic/satiric interpreter of Trinidadian society, Naipaul gradually developed into a serious novelist with human concerns: an interpreter of global issues, culture conflicts, and change. The Mystic Masseur, his first novel, has a regional flavor, while In a Free State, written fourteen years later, has an international cast. His landscapes have shifted from the alleys and lanes of Miguel Street (Trinidad) to East Africa, French Africa, South America, and India. From the Dickensian comedy and irony of A House for Mr. Biswas, he moved to probing the heart of universal darkness in Guerrillas and A Bend in the...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How is the influence of colonialism reflected in V. S. Naipaul’s novels?

Some characters in Naipaul’s novels feel they have no real homes. Why do they feel that way?

What elements in British culture make it difficult for Third World immigrants to fit in?

How important are family ties to Naipaul’s characters?

How do Naipaul’s Indian characters view sexual relationships? What is their attitude toward marriage?

What is Naipaul’s assessment of Islamic fundamentalism? Why does he think it appeals to so many Muslims?

How does Guerillas dramatize the problems in postcolonial African countries?

What does Naipaul see as the major problems in India, his ancestral home? How do his views change from one book about India to the next?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cudjoe, Selwyn R. V. S. Naipaul: A Materialist Reading. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. A fellow Trinidadian but of black descent, Cudjoe accuses Naipaul of racism. He also employs psychoanalytical references to explain Naipaul’s literary characters and the man himself. A strong counterpart to the praise given Naipaul by many British critics.

Dooley, Gillian. V. S. Naipaul, Man and Writer. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006. A scholarly, concise and readable analysis of Naipaul’s oeuvre. Includes bibliography and index.

Gorra, Michael. After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. Like Paul Scott and Salman Rushdie, Naipaul is a novelist who explores his English education against the backdrop of a culturally blurred society left behind by British imperialism, according to Gorra. As such, Naipaul concerns himself with history, the nature of identity, and the mimicry inherent in postcolonial society.

King, Bruce. V. S. Naipaul. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. King finds a moral honesty in Naipaul’s writing that brings freshness to his fiction. King analyzes Naipaul’s fictional works in individual chapters. He also discusses Naipaul’s nonfiction. Appendices concern Naipaul’s family and experiences in Trinidad and...

(The entire section is 497 words.)