Saturday, January 13, 2007

A House for Mr. Biswas
A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

"He read political books. They gave him phrases which he could only speak to himself and use on Shama. They also revealed one region after another of misery and injustice and left him feeling more helpless and more isolated than ever. Then it was that he discovered the solace of Dickens. Without difficulty he transferred characters and settings to people and places he knew. In the grotesques of Dickens everything he feared and suffered from was ridiculed and diminished, so that his own anger, his own contempt became unnecessary, and he was given strength to bear the most difficult part of his day: dressing in the morning, that daily affirmation of faith in oneself, which at times for him was almost like an act of sacrifice." 

This is a moving account of the life of the title character with all the humor requisite in a Dickensian novel of forthright, if prolix style. Well-constructed with memorable set-pieces, this book is one I will remember in spite of its weaknesses. Reading A House for Mr. Biswas was both encouraging and discouraging for me in different ways. Naipaul's love for his family and his detail portrayal of the Indian culture in Trinidad was both beautiful and moving; but sometimes the detail seemed to get in the way and disturb my thought rather than motivate my reading. Too many members of the extended family were limned as spiteful and disagreeable to allow the book to be appealing for all of its' many hundreds of pages. That having been said, there was a pleasure to be gained from wading and waiting through the prose. The moments of beauty spoke to this reader of the promise of further good writing from this author.

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