V. S. Naipaul

Complex, gifted, provocative, controversial: Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was an author of many faces, a writer who debuted with comedy but would later score the 1971 Booker Prize with a bleak, unsentimental study of post-Colonial chaos. A recipient of the Nobel prize for literature and considered as one of the true masters of the written word, V.S. Naipaul’s reputation was however rather wounded by his seemingly unapologetic revelations around his personal life and what many saw as open misogyny toward female writers.

Beginning with the droll The Mystic Masseur in 1957, Naipaul forged a career that would see his writing split between the narrative and the documentary, his novels sometimes a fusion of the two. It was his second novel A House for Mr. Biswas – based on the life of his own father - which made his name, becoming an international success. In the works that followed, Naipaul’s native Trinidad would cast a long and sometimes resented shadow, and his travels (most particularly across Africa) would particularly inform the Conradian odyssey A Bend in the River and the composite novel that would bring the author Booker glory, In a Free State.

Patrick French’s The World Is What It Is captures Naipaul at his most brilliant and paradoxically brutal, dashing the reputations of the old guard of classic writers against the rocks and fully assuming the role of a sometimes monstrous grand literary provocateur. ‘Everything of value about me is in my books,’ he claimed. ‘Whatever extra there is in me at any given moment isn't fully formed. I am hardly aware of it; it awaits the next book.’

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The winner of the 1971 Booker Prize, In a Free State is a masterpiece of postcolonial fiction; originally published as a composite novel, interlinking stories of expatriation and displacement. From a couple’s disintegrating marriage - set against an odyssey across the brutal backdrop of Idi Amin’s Uganda – to the vengeful exile of a young man in, ‘Tell Me Who to Kill’, Naipaul builds a powerful, overarching picture of fractured identity and uncertain homecoming that spans continents.

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