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Half a Life by V.S. Naipaul

The Book:

Source for The Book section : From Goodreads
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 man’s 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.

The View:

A lot of my book selections is based on peer reviews and recommendations but there are a few that make me curious and urge me to ignore my TBR pile. “Half a Life” is one such book that jumped the volumes of my TBR pile and fell right on my bed stand.
Reason number 1: The author’s reputation and the Nobel prize to boost it further.
Reason number 2: I recently came across an article which stated that the author made some derogatory remarks about female authors and that sparked my anger. I had to see what he had to offer.

As mentioned, I was unimpressed by the author and started reading the book with a lot of skepticism. But I have to acknowledge that his writing is far superior than many authors we see today. Simple, elegant and to the point, he conveys the message in a clear and concise fashion. I enjoyed the initial chapters in the book which explains the life his father led and the vow of silence he adapted. The bare interaction between Willie and his Brahmin father was also very well described. The social norms, cultural aspects, and the intricacies of living in an indian society were almost spot on. Then Willie moves to London and there for me the story fades.

Willie’s character is neither here nor there. He does not identify with the place, people or the religion he is in at any point of his life. He fails to understand himself and is always aspiring to be someone else. When he does find an identity he is so determined to not be like his father, that he lands up not being himself as well. His sexual escapades (though not described graphically) still annoyed me. My thoughts when I finished the book was with poor Ana; she must have been one hell of a peaceful soul to put up with such a loser.

This book cannot be categorized as an enjoyable read but I still managed to read it till the end because I was eager to see if Willie will accept who he is and live a complete life. Of course that never happens. Naipaul is definitely a talented writer but he seems to have failed in the plot and the characters with this one. Rated a 3 on 5.



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