September Books 2) Half a Life, by V.S. Naipaul

Having enjoyed A House for Mr Biswas, I tried this as a follow-up, but did not enjoy it as much. Naipaul’s protagonist is Indian, and gets a scholarship to study in London, where he starts to make a career as a journalist and writer; and then he abruptly goes to Africa with his current lover. The best thing about the book is the vivid sense of place of the three settings – the immediate post-independence period in India, the London literary sub-culture, and the African colony lurching towards independence: I really felt immersed in the settings, both the physical and human aspects of the geography.

That said, the book is rather frustratingly incomplete. There is occasional name-dropping of real people – Krishna Menon, Arthur Christiansen, Che Guevara; but I couldn’t really understand the contrast between on the one hand this specificity about real people, and the very well conveyed sense of place, and on the other a geographical coyness. Why not name the Portuguese colony on the east coast of Africa? (There is only one, after all.) Why not be more specific about Willie’s home town in India? Perhaps the point is to make it a more universal critique of colonialism, but I think it would have been more effective without the vagueness.

It’s not a very cheerful book. Willie makes love to many women, but doesn’t really appear to enjoy it, or to like them very much. I don’t think it is misogynistic – Willie’s sister, and his Portuguese African girlfriend, are both memorable characters with their own motivations – but it’s not especially upllifting. It is, however, mercifully short.

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1 Response to September Books 2) Half a Life, by V.S. Naipaul

  1. mcbadger says:

    Same here.

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