The Pride and The Prejudice of V.S. Naipaul

In the Guardian, Robert McCrum profiles Naipaul:

Everyone agrees that VS Naipaul is fully alive to his own importance. A mirror to his work, his life is emblematic of an extraordinary half century, the postwar years. Let it not be said that he does not know this. ‘My story is a kind of cultural history,’ he remarks, in part of an overture to a long conversation. Nevertheless, he will not be reading Patrick French’s forthcoming authorised biography, The World Is What it Is. ‘I asked Patrick to do it, but I haven’t read a word,’ he emphasises, brushing past rumours of discord over the manuscript. ‘I don’t intend to read the book.’

This volatile mixture of pride and insecurity illuminates everything about him. ‘I am the kind of writer,’ he once said, ‘that people think other people are reading.’ That’s a characteristic Naipaul formulation, ironically self-deprecating (my audience is small, but select) while at the same time breathtakingly self-confident (I am a great writer whose work deserves to be generally admired).

The light cast by this strange combustion of arrogance and modesty has often exposed the world in new and unexpected ways. At its best, Naipaul’s prose is as sharp and lucid as splinters of glass. But there’s a paradox here. The man himself is anything but straightforward – an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, inside a mystery: possibly, he is a bit of a puzzle even to himself.