The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul
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Since V. S. Naipaul left his Caribbean birthplace at the age of seventeen, his improbable life has followed the global movement of peoples, whose preeminent literary chronicler he has become. In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French offers the first authoritative biography of the controversial Nobel laureate, whose only stated ambition was greatness as a writer, in pursuit of which goal nothing else was sacred.
Beginning with a richly detailed portrait of Naipaul’s childhood in colonial Trinidad, French gives us the boy born to an Indian family, the displaced soul in a displaced community, who by dint of talent and ambition finds the only imaginable way out: a scholarship to Oxford. London in the 1950s offers hope and his first literary success, but homesickness and depression almost defeat Vidia, his narrow escape aided by Patricia Hale, an Englishwoman who will devote herself to his work and well-being. She will stand by him, sometimes tenuously, for more than four decades, even as Naipaul embarks on a twenty-four-year affair, which will awaken half-dead passions and feed perhaps his greatest wave of dizzying creativity. Amid this harrowing emotional life, French traces the course of the fierce visionary impulse underlying Naipaul’s singular power, a gift to produce masterpieces of fiction and nonfiction.
Informed by exclusive access to V. S. Naipaul’s private papers and personal recollections, and by great feeling for his formidable body of work, French’s revelatory biography does full justice to an enigmatic genius.
note from Delhi: “it worried me whether the colour was the colour you said you didn’t want … I chose it with the advice of an Indian actress whose knowledge of these things one must defer to.”45 Sensing no competition, he even gave her literary encouragement. In early 1969 Antonia published her first biography, of Mary, Queen of Scots. She told Vidia of editorial battles, of being “put into the ring with a girl … aged 22, like bull and matador, to argue out each individual correction.”46 He
figure. It was a mystical view of history, lacking rigour, choosing pieces of evidence that supported the idea of undoing the past. “What puzzled me and outraged me was the attitude that it was wrong, that one mustn’t undo the [Muslim] conquest. I think it is the attitude of a slave population.” The political fragmentation and the hundreds of deaths in the rioting that followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid were not his concern: “I didn’t kill them myself. What was I doing in 1992? That was
he had only voted once, in 1983, for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives. “Until I was in my forties, I was kind of an instinctive Labour Party man, but then intellectually I found them less and less attractive.” Asked how he dealt with “carnal acts” in his fiction, he answered that he had initially been unable to write about sex: “When I was young, you know, I was a great frequenter of prostitutes. I found them intensely stimulating. But what happened was that by the time I was in my mid-thirties,
met a Frenchman, Yves Leclerc, who was lodging in the house and making a living by translating thrillers into French at high speed. “He was a giant of a man, but wonderfully encouraging to me at our first meeting, when there was little to encourage. He was born in Morocco, or had lived there. He had been in the French underground during the war and when I knew him he still had his Maquis name, Coulon.”8 Yves Leclerc would recur, in life and in fiction. Carmen, who came from Italy, tried early to
had no money.”24 Pat finally bought herself a wedding ring, a plain gold band, which she rarely wore. Initially she remained living with Miss Gilson in Birmingham while she completed her studies in history and philosophy, and only came down to St. Julian’s Road at weekends. Before arrival, she would send Vidia a shopping list and basic instructions in housewifery: “bed made with one clean sheet (put top to bottom) & clean pillow cases.” Vidia kept her in touch with London by post, watching the