naipaul, goodbad


Any biography of this man was bound to contain accounts of bad behaviour, arrogance and self-pity. There is an absurd moment, when typing out A House for Mr Biswas, when he wound tape around his fingers – “So painful, the typing”. There used, in those days, to be little rubber thimbles, purchasable for a few pence, to guard against this hazard of the typist’s life, but he preferred to murmur, Job-like, “So painful, the typing”. Many will gasp at his persistent verbal cruelties – “You have no skill”, he snarls at the long-suffering Pat who is retyping his horrifying novel Guerrillas: “You don’t behave like a writer’s wife. You behave like the wife of a clerk who has risen above his station”.

Naturally, as Naipaul grew older, the bad behaviour grew to crescendos. But there is often a lordliness about it which some, such as I, may find redeems it. Two examples, one minor and one major: the minor – when he was first introduced to Auberon Waugh and was asked, “May I call you Vidia?”. His reply, worthy of Evelyn Waugh himself was: “No, as we’ve just met, I would rather you called me Mr Naipaul”; the second, which would win a prize for bad behaviour, but is also hugely comic, was his inability to inform Margaret, his mistress of long standing, that he had decided to remarry when Pat died of cancer. He sent his tall, mysterious literary agent, “Gillon Aitken to sort out the mess, taking the concept of agency to new lengths”.

more from the TLS here.