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Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Naipaul, Naipaul, Naipaul

So many reviews of Patrick French's biography The World Is What It Is, each one sounding much like the last--the same repetition of the list of Sir Vidia's sins, with emphasis on his marital life and sex "secrets", garnished by comments on the monstrousness of the man, and largely simplifying the subtleties, complexities, and ironies of the book. I was half in mind to do a follow-up roundup of TWIWIS coverage, but it's too exhausting to contemplate anything comprehensive--so I'll link to just a couple more reviews. First Hilary Spurling's in the UK Observer, which is illustrated with what is now my favourite photo of Naipaul, by Eamonn McCabe:

Second, Sunil Khilnani's review in Outlook India, which incisively describes what he calls French's "myth-puncturing"--his careful consideration of the uncomfortable but very human truths behind Naipaul's artfully crafted public persona. Khilnani concludes:

Naipaul came to perfect this stance: controlling a situation by appearing helpless, then getting others to do his bidding--while making them feel that they were doing it inadequately. In this biography, however, this method has failed him. This may be an authorised biography, but it is firmly and in every sense in Patrick French's control--and he has written a superb account of the life, as what it is. Now, knowing the myth, having read the life, one goes back to the work. That is Naipaul's monument. We are many, who lead less than exemplary lives; but very few are able to turn the matter of their lives into great work. Naipaul, as Patrick French lets us still better see, is one of them.

Meanwhile, it is announced today that TWIWIS has been longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction, sponsored by the BBC.

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