Winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize.
Synopses & Reviews
One of the finest living writers in the English language, V. S. Naipaul gives us a tale as wholly unexpected as it is affecting, his first novel since the exultantly acclaimed A Way in the World
, published seven years ago.
Half a Life is the story of Willie Chandran, whose father, heeding the call of Mahatma Gandhi, turned his back on his brahmin heritage and married a woman of low caste a disastrous union he would live to regret, as he would the children that issued from it. When Willie reaches manhood, his flight from the travails of his mixed birth takes him from India to London, where, in the shabby haunts of immigrants and literary bohemians of the 1950s, he contrives a new identity. This is what happens as he tries to defeat self-doubt in sexual adventures and in the struggle to become a writer strivings that bring him to the brink of exhaustion, from which he is rescued, to his amazement, only by the love of a good woman. And this is what happens when he returns with her carried along, really to her home in Africa, to live, until the last doomed days of colonialism, yet another life not his own.
In a luminous narrative that takes us across three continents, Naipaul explores his great theme of inheritance with an intimacy and directness unsurpassed in his extraordinary body of work. And even as he lays bare the bitter comical ironies of assumed identities, he gives us a poignant spectacle of the enervation peculiar to a borrowed life. In one mans determined refusal of what he has been given to be, Naipaul reveals the way of all our experience. As Willie comes to see, Everything goes on a bias. The world should stop, but it goes on. A masterpiece of economy and emotional nuance, Half a Life is an indelible feat of the imagination.
"Half a Life, the fierce new novel by V. S. Naipaul, the new Nobel laureate, is one of those rare books that stands as both a small masterpiece in its own right and as a potent distillation of the author's work to date....It deftly combines Dickensian delight in character with political and social observation...while recounting with uncommon elegance and acerbity the coming of age of its hero, Willie Chandran....Mr. Naipaul endows his story with the heightened power of a fable. With Half a Life he has given us a powerful tale of one man's journey from childhood to middle age while at the same time creating a resonant parable about the convulsions of modern history, both the dying of old inequities and the rise of new illusions, and their spiritual legacy of homelessness and dislocation." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"V.S. Naipaul has often been accused of being ungenerous, especially in his scathing accounts of Third World countries. His slim new novel tacitly poses the question of the worth of generosity without clarity and purpose....Naipaul's plain narrative is studded with beautifully realized scenes, such as the London party at which a newspaper editor reads his own, self-written obituary, or the night Willie goes to an African brothel with Alvaro, an estate overseer. Although this novel does not aspire to the breadth of Naipaul's earlier fiction, it reminds us that his vision is on par with Conrad's or Graham Greene's." Publishers Weekly
"Naipaul has been writing for 45 years, and even readers new to his work will realize instantly that they're in the hands of a master. With astonishing economy of language and command of both the intimately personal and the sweepingly political, Naipaul tells a psychologically complex yet rapidly paced tale of a father and son who fail to fully engage with life....Through Willie's observant if uninformed eyes, Naipaul examines the politics of sex, race, and class in bohemian 1950s Africa." Booklist (starred review)
"Naipaul's first novel in six years is another installment in the extended fictional autobiography....[This novel] may tell us more about the essential Naipaul than he has ever heretofore revealed....The work of a master who has rarely, if ever, written better." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"As sly and funny as anything Naipaul has written....He is still mining his richest obsessions....The classic that his new novel calls to mind is Voltaire's Candide. There is the same mocking simplicity of style, the same heartless elegance of design....Nobody who enjoys seeing English beautifully controlled should miss this novel." John Carey, Sunday Times (London)
"A surprise and a pleasure...here, at last, is a work of pure imagination, though the themes are characteristic in their complex peculiarity....Naipaul has produced the most complex and demanding body of work of any post-war British writer....In sentences of great precision and balance, Naipaul reanimates the dilemmas of the late and post-colonial experience....He reminds us again of what a fine and unusual writer he is....In the canon of contemporary British writing he is without peer: a cold, clear-eyed prophet, a scourge of sentimentality, irrationalism and lazy left-liberal prejudices. Read him." Jason Cowley, The Observer Review (London)
About the Author
V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession. He has published more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, and a collection of letters, Between Father and Son. He lives in Wiltshire, England.