wood navigates naipaul


The public snob, the grand bastard, was much in evidence when I interviewed V. S. Naipaul in 1994, and this was exactly as expected. A pale woman, his secretary, showed me in to the sitting room of his London flat. Naipaul looked warily at me, offered a hand, and began an hour of scornful correction. I knew nothing, he said, about his birthplace, Trinidad; I possessed the usual liberal sentimentality. It was a plantation society. Did I know anything about his writing? He doubted it. The writing life had been desperately hard. But, I said, hadn’t his great novel, “A House for Mr. Biswas,” been acclaimed on its publication? “Look at the people’s choices for the best books of the sixties,” he said. “ ‘Biswas’ is not there.” His secretary brought coffee, and retired. Naipaul claimed that he had not even been published in America until the nineteen-seventies, “and then the reviews were awful—unlettered, illiterate, ignorant.” The phone rang, and kept ringing. “I am sorry,” Naipaul said in exasperation. “One is not well cared for here.” Only as the secretary showed me out, and novelist and servant briefly spoke to each other in the hall, did I realize that she was Naipaul’s wife.

more from the New Yorker here.