V.S. Naipaul (Sir Vidia Naipaul)

b. 1932 – d. 2018

V.S. Naipaul (Sir Vidia Naipaul) was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962.

V.S. Naipaul (Sir Vidia Naipaul) remembered – by Monique Roffey

V.S. Naipaul was a prolific Indo-Trinidadian writer who published 30 books in a career spanning 50 years. While he wrote complex political novels, travel books, essays and non-fiction, his comic novels set in Trinidad, like Miguel Street and A House for Mr Biswas, are still probably his most famous and loved. Guerrillas, set in an unnamed Caribbean island (which some say was a pastiche of Jamaica and Trinidad), was a bleak story which reimagined the life of Michael X and the murder of Gail Benson. The Enigma of Arrival was his most autobiographical book and also much lauded. Naipaul won the Booker Prize for his novella In a Free State in 1971 and in 2001 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The press release said of him: ‘Naipaul is Conrad’s heir as the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings. His authority as a narrator is grounded in the memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished.’ Seen as a sharp-eyed and lacerating observer of the colonial era, Naipaul’s career began in the colonial era and spanned the nascent gaining of independence, the Independence era, of the British colonies in the Caribbean, an era of great flux and also political failure. his work was often written in polished Trinidadian dialect, a revolutionary thing to do in the 1950s. 

Famously, he allowed Patrick French to be his biographer and gave uncen-sored and candid interviews which he hadn’t realised would be noted down, let alone published. Naipaul had also handed French his dead wife’s diaries, in which there were many chilling revelations on how he’d treated her. The World Is What It Is caused something of a scandal in 2009, for French recorded Naipaul’s affair with his Argentinian lover, Margaret, and his cruel treatment of both her and of his first wife, Patricia Hale. Naipaul thought himself something of a provocateur, apparently saying purposely-offensive things to arouse anger. He once said that women, generally, couldn’t write as they were not masters of their own homes and were too sentimental.

After he died in August 2018, his ex-publisher, Diana Athill, wrote of him: ‘He was so moody and depressive. you only had to look at his face to see that he was genuinely suffering a lot of the time.’ In Trinidad he remains a man who divides opinions and loyalties and he is revered and despised in equal measures. Mostly, Trinidadians find it hard to forgive his contempt for the island of his birth. Trinidad has hosted a literary festival of international standing, the Bocas Lit Fest, for the last decade and he shunned invitations to attend. Since the 2018 #MeToo movement, powerful creative men who have abused women, whether verbally or physically, can no longer be glossed over. While Naipaul leaves behind a substantial body of work, there will always be whispers of ‘brilliant monster’. In Elle, in 2008, Daphne Merkin wrote: ‘One has the sense that Naipaul writes with a wounded pen, as if his psychic life depends on it, and because the void – the “spiritual emptiness” he refers to in [A Writer’s People] – is never far off.’

Articles by V.S. Naipaul (Sir Vidia Naipaul)

V.S. Naipaul in conversation with John Carey

V.S. Naipaul in conversation with John Carey about his life and career

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