Andrew Robinson

The heart of the master

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THE WRITER AND THE WORD: ESSAYS

V. S. Naipaul

Picador, pp. 517, £

THE HUMOUR AND THE PITY: ESSAYS ON V. S. NAIPAUL

edited by Amitava Kumar
Buffalo Books, in association with the British Council, New Delhi, Rs 175, pp. 174, ISBN 8187890029

In 'London', a short essay written for the Times Literary Supplement in 1958, the up-and-coming V. S. Naipaul accurately analysed why his fictions about the Caribbean would never be bestsellers in England. First,

I cannot write Sex. I haven't the skill, or the wide experience which is necessary if one's work is to have variety. And then I would be embarrassed even at the moment of writing. My friends would laugh. My mother would be shocked, and with reason.

Secondly, he was unwilling to introduce an English or American character and write the story around him, as in the movies. 'It is good business, but bad art.' Finally, 'there is Race' - stories of oppression and humiliation.

To be successful, these chronicles of oppression must have clear oppressors and clear oppressed. This is not easy for an Indian