Thursday, 3 September 2020

A House for Mr Biswas - V S Naipaul

V S Naipaul considered A House for Mr Biswas his first serious fiction and his best-known.  He wrote it at the end of the Fifties, as he was approaching thirty.  The setting is Naipaul's native Trinidad but Mohun Biswas (called 'Mr' from childhood) is about a decade older than him.  Indeed, Biswas dies in early middle age.

There is a Dickensian element to the structure.  Biswas's lifetime quest is to secure a house of his own and the story is divided into chapters around his housing status through life.  Biswas is a clown and a bit of a blowhard, who rises to a job as staff reporter on a Port of Spain newspaper and an unsecured social worker in a postwar community project.  Naipaul was a professional writer from his student days at Oxford and became a dreadful snob, pompous and opinionated.  Perhaps that came after he wrote Biswas because the 600-page book never becomes boring or didactic.  It is, in short, a traditional English comic novel set entirely in Trinidad.

I had never read Naipaul before Biswas and it may be I never read him again.  But I thoroughly enjoyed this.

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