A Writer’s People: Ways of Looking and Feeling

V. S. Naipaul, Author . Knopf $24.95 (189p) ISBN 978-0-375-40738-3

The fascinating but not fully satisfying new book by Nobel prize-winner Naipaul is a curious collection. These five nonfiction pieces have no thematic through-line or argument, wandering instead through pockets of memoir, literary criticism, history and gossip. Naipaul is well-versed for this type of journey, as his past forays into fiction, travel writing and autobiography have proven, and his ability to thoroughly engage with both the stylistic flaws of Flaubert’s novel Salammbô and an early biography of Gandhi within the space of a few pages is both illuminating and impressive. One of the loose organizing themes of the book is Naipaul’s relationships with other writers and books, a subject on which he expounds fully and often with more than a touch of spite. In “An English Way of Looking,” on the British writer Anthony Powell, a good friend during Naipaul’s early years in London, Naipaul criticizes Powell’s writing unrelentingly, then paints extraordinarily unflattering portraits of Auberon Waugh and Phillip Larkin as punishment for their criticism of Powell. Nonetheless, Naipaul’s latest offers an honest portrait of a major international writer’s perspective from late in life. (May 5)

Reviewed on: 03/31/2008
Release date: 04/01/2008
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