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Friday, 31 October 2008

"The life will throw light on the books"

The merit of writers' biographies continues to be disputed. For some, the work is all we need to know. Others say they love the books, so they want to know more about the people who wrote them. Then there is always the possibility that the life will throw light on the books and deepen our understanding of them.

--From Ian Buruma's meaty review of Patrick French's Naipaul biography, The World Is What It Is, in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. Buruma is an intriguing choice for reviewer--about fifteen years ago Naipaul's agent approached him to write an authorised biography, an opportunity Buruma turned down:

I was intrigued, flattered, and deeply apprehensive. The idea of writing the life of a man who was still alive was daunting enough. Such projects typically result in acrimony. The idea of writing the life of a man as fastidious and difficult as V.S. Naipaul was particularly daunting. And I was not at all sure that delving into the nooks and crannies of his private life would be a pleasure for me, or enlightening for the readers. I can still remember my sense of embarrassment when Naipaul, looking intently at his shiny brown shoes, began to tell me about his sexual frustrations, as we sat opposite one another in his oddly impersonal London flat. I knew then that this project was not for me. I doubted whether an honest book could be written by anyone while Naipaul was still alive.

I was wrong.

Bestian Antilles readers will be pleased to see that Buruma quotes Lloyd Best twice in his review.

1 comment:

FSJL said...

Now, I'm looking forward to the book, which is is on its way to me from the Great South American River.