Colm Tóibín on Borges: A Life by Edwin Williamson, in the London Review of Books:
On 9 March 1951, Seepersad Naipaul wrote from Trinidad to his son Vidia, who was an undergraduate at Oxford: ‘I am beginning to believe I could have been a writer.’ A month later, Vidia, in a letter to the entire family, wrote: ‘I hope Pa does write, even five hundred words a day. He should begin a novel. He should realise that the society of the West Indies is a very interesting one – one of phoney sophistication.’ Soon, his father wrote again to say that he had in fact started to write five hundred words a day. ‘Let me see how well the resolve works out,’ he wrote. ‘Even now I have not settled the question whether I should work on an autobiographical novel or whether I should exhume Gurudeva.’ Gurudeva and Other Indian Tales had been privately published in Port of Spain in 1943. It would be Seepersad Naipaul’s only book. He died in 1953 at the age of 47.
For writers and artists whose fathers dabbled in art and failed there seems always to be a peculiar intensity in their levels of ambition and determination. It was as though an artist such as Picasso, whose father was a failed painter, or William James, whose father was a failed essayist, or V.S. Naipaul, sought to compensate for his father’s failure while at the same time using his talent as a way of killing the father off, showing his mother who was the real man in the household.
Jorge Luis Borges was in Majorca in 1919, writing his first poems as his father, Jorge Guillermo Borges, was working on his only novel, which, like Seepersad Naipaul’s book, was printed privately…